First Lutheran Church
July 15, 2015
The Gospel writer Mark knows who Jesus is and clues his readers in from the very beginning of the Gospel, which starts this way, The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark makes it clear from the beginning that Jesus Christ is the proclaimer and embodiment of the Kingdom of God, and that disciples are those who follow him in anticipation of his final coming as Son of Man.
Mark is clear. Jesus is the King who announces the coming of the kingdom and illuminates its hidden presence in the here and now. Disciples are the subjects of the kingdom, who enter into it, share it with the king and follow him in its proclamation. That is how we know with great certainty who Jesus Christ is.
The interesting twist in this particular story is that Jesus’ family and friends, the people who know with great certainty who Jesus is, do not really know him at all. A seminary friend once said, I know about Paul, but I know Jesus. What a simple yet profound statement of the relationship between the Lord and the believer. The people of Nazareth knew about Jesus, they even knew him after a fashion, but they did not know him as Jesus the Christ.
I have been preaching from Mark for several weeks now. This passage follows accounts of his authoritative teaching and preaching. Last week we heard how he raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead as he healed a woman of a debilitating chronic hemorrhage. Everything Jesus says and does proclaims that the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is near.
Jesus goes home to Nazareth after that. The contrast between where he had just been and what happened in Nazareth is striking. On the Sabbath, Jesus attends Synagogue and takes his turn among the men reading and expounding the Torah. His exposition must have been incredible because we are told that those who heard him were astounded. 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? On the one hand, they get it. They hear the wisdom in his words and they see his marvelous works. They are wowed and amazed, much like other crowds in other towns. But then something equally amazing happens. They remember who he is. Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us? Their astonishment turns to scorn and they are offended by him. The Greek word Mark uses is Σκανδαλην (skandalein). You can hear the word scandal in it. The people are scandalized. How dare he come back here and try to tell us the meaning of the Torah!
We are not told what it was that Jesus preach. The text implies that it doesn’t matter what he was saying. The offense had to do with his presumption to teach them as though he had the authority to do so.
Why such a violent reaction, in contrast to the faith that Jesus was generating in the surrounding country? It has to do with familiarity that breeds contempt. The folks of Nazareth knew Jesus very well in one sense. They knew his parents and lineage, they lived as neighbors with his siblings, they knew his trade. They probably watched him grow up on the village streets, tussling with other boys, learning the Torah along with carpentry by Joseph’s side. And now, in their arrogance, they have decided that there is nothing he can teach them. And they are arrogant in that they think they know God well enough to know that God would never choose Jesus as the proclaimer and embodiment of the Kingdom. Where did this man get all this?
As a result of their arrogant disbelief, Mark tells us that Jesus could do no deed of power except to cure a few people Does this mean that Jesus Christ is powerless when confronted with unbelief? Of course not. Like the prophets before him, Jesus the Christ continues his proclamation and miracle working in the face of unbelief, for God’s power will prevail. But unbelief hindered the ability of the people of Nazareth to perceive the effects of Jesus’ marvelous works in their midst. Unbelief leached out their spiritual imaginations, dampening their sense of wonder and expectancy and hampering their ability to be open to God’s power. There is so much more that God’s power can do within a community full of wonder and whimsy, a community who humbly knows there are miracles left to do.
Lack of faith happens in church communities as well. Several years ago, I was tried to persuad a recently elected officer to attend a training event in which I was invovled. She had served in office before and did not want to go. I already know everything there is to know. I don’t need that. There was the church in Kansas which declined starting a Bible study, stating they were too busy, implying there was nothing more to learn from the Bible. Some churches distrust their own denominational leadership, or other denominations, or any church that does not subscribe to its narrow definitions of faith. All of us can be stubborn in clinging to what we know, but so often what we know is based on human opinion rather than on biblical principle. Our stubborn disbelief hampers our ability to perceive the workings of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church, but even so, God’s power will prevail.
As the church, the Body of Christ on earth, as the people who profess to know and follow Jesus the Christ, we need to be particularly mindful of what the Holy Spirit is teaching us here, because it speaks directly to the nature of discipleship. If the folks in Nazareth are the model of poor discipling, the obedience of the Twelve in going forth in mission is the model of faithful discipleship. They went in pairs, beccause disciples are always stronger together than they are alone. They traveled with minimal provisions to remind them to rely on God’s resources, not their own. And they were expected to obey the commands of Jesus to take the Good news into the world.
The manner and style of discipleship matters far less than the faith of the disciple. As quickly as one community rejects Jesus and his message, another goes out in trust and simplicity to share what they believe with others. It is a remarkable contrast. One community is offended by the messenger which closes their hearts to the message. Another community is transformed by the messenger and established the church. Which community are we? Are we disciples, refreshed and renewed by the proclamation of the kingdom, willing to proclaim the kingdom at the bidding of our Lord? Or are we Nazareth, dulled by the familiar, offended by a message that challenges us, closed off to the marvelous works of God’s hands? We cannot know who we are until we know whose we are. Do we know Jesus as the Christ or do we just about know Jesus?
To God be the glory. Amen.