Jesus is going home. He is getting to be pretty well known now and everyone in Nazareth is buzzing about seeing their hometown boy who has made it big. He is followed by large crowds wherever he goes. Maybe they’ve already heard about how he raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead or how he healed the poor woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. He’ll be preaching in the synagogue that Sabbath and no one wants to miss it. They will sing psalms and listen to readings from the Holy Text, kind of like us. As a guest rabbi, Jesus will select any passage from the prophets that he chooses.
Our reading today is from Mark but all four gospels tell this same story. Luke goes into much more detail than Mark at this point: Jesus stands up to read, holding a scroll from the prophet Isaiah. Listen to his reading: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Doesn’t this sound like a mission statement for Jesus? Good news to the poor, release to the captives (in prison), recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to those who are oppressed. Jesus rolls up the scroll, gives it back to the attendant and sits down, ready to start teaching. All eyes were riveted on Jesus. Then he says to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
At first, the people were in awe! Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! I’m sure they’re all thinking, “We knew him when he was a little squirt, running around with his friends, getting into trouble. He’s just the son of a carpenter. How can he do all of these things and talk like this? Where did he get this authority?
The townspeople were really liking what Jesus was saying until a few moments later whenHe taught that true faith was also found outside of Israel and among the Gentiles who were from towns beyond the borders of true faith.
OH OH! What is our little home town boy saying? Jews are the chosen people. How can this devout Jewish boy tell us that true faith can be found among Gentiles?!!! (You know, some people try to say the same sort of things, thinking that God’s love is only for Christians, not Muslims or Hindus, or Jews!)
Well, they took offense at him. Everything changed in that synagogue. Suddenly the Golden Boy wasn’t so Golden! The people were scandalized. Jesus must have sighed and said, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own family, and in their own house." I’m sure even his brothers and sisters were shaking their heads too, thinking he was way out of line now!
“And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” The people were too close to Jesus. When you stand too close to the most beautiful painting in the world, it’s just globs of paint. They were too familiar to see the full, impossible identity of Jesus as a true prophet.
We have a ‘local boy made good’ story here on the Harbor: Kurt Cobain. He is revered by people from all over the world who come to Aberdeen, looking to memorialize him. What do they find? A sign saying “Welcome to Aberdeen, Come as You Are”. “Come As You Are” is a song by Cobain’s band, Nirvana. I often see tourists taking pictures next to that sign. I guess there is a sign near a bridge also where he used to sleep. So in our eyes, there isn’t much need to remember this boy who didn’t do well in school, took drugs and was, well, unsavory. Away from home, he is hugely popular as one who changed the face of music. Like Jesus, Curt can’t get a break in his hometown either.
SO - here is Jesus, facing a very unhappy hometown crowd. He could do no deeds of power there. “He was amazed at their unbelief.” How do you think Jesus felt at this moment? He had started off with a bang, teaching and preaching to an excited crowd of believers in his own hometown. Now the people in the crowd were shaking their heads, crossing their arms, murmuring in displeasure. Maybe some are walking out. According to Luke, they were so angry they tried to run him off a cliff!
I am stopped in my tracks at this point in the gospel. Jesus could not do any miracles there because the people did not believe. Often when he heals, Jesus comments about the faith the people have. I’m sure that having faith in Jesus, in God, helps with healing or acts of power. But is faith required for miracles to occur?
What about God’s grace? I deeply believe that God’s grace pours abundantly over everyone, over everything, healing us, bestowing miracles. God’s not going to deny any of his love, his power, his grace over something so inconsequential as our belief or lack thereof. Here is the question: Is belief required for miracles or do miracles pour down on everyone, believers AND non believers?
Well, I’m an Episcopalian so I’m taking the middle path here. In our baptismal vows we promise to do all kinds of difficult things but we promise this way: “I will, with God’s help.” We teach kids this great verse from Philippians: “I can do anything with Christ who strengthens me.” “With God’s Help.” “With Christ who strengthens me.”
We must act in partnership with God for healing and miracles to occur. With faith the size of a mustard seed, great things can happen. But we can’t just lie around awaiting a miracle. We can’t just kneel and pray and pray without helping ourselves. I believe that when miracles happen, God’s not acting alone and neither are we.
Well, let’s see what Jesus did when his hometown friends and family were turning on him. He turned his back on them. He left. Maybe Christ remembered that HE could do anything with his father’s help! I can’t help but wonder if he said, “Fine. I’ll show them!” He is filled with fire as he turns to his followers and says: “GO”. He gives them authority over unclean spirits and begins to sent them out.
He’s TOUGH! “Take nothing except a staff. No bread, no bag, no money, just one tunic and sandals.” Does this seem a bit like total ministry to you? No money, just do your ministry!
Just as He is turning his back on his inhospitable home town, he tells his followers that when they are not welcome, to “shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them!” So they GO. They cast out demons and anoint with oil and heal those who are sick.
This gospel is a call to evangelism for all of us. I don’t know about you but the thought of going door to door speaking about my faith makes me cringe. Some churches take these words literally and send out their young people two by two. We don’t.
How can we answer this call to go out into the world and proclaim the Good News? I know how: with God’s help. We can proclaim our faith by how we live, with God’s help. It’s hard to choose every day to be forgiving, to help the poor, to love others, even our enemies. But we can model these Christian teachings everyday ... with God’s help. This is a hard task but WE CAN DO ANYTHING WITH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS US!