The 6th Sunday after Pentecost — Proper 9B (July 8, 2012)

Lessons:Ezekiel 2:1-5 Psalm 123 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 St. Mark 6:1-13 Semicontinuous Series: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 Psalm 48

Prayer of the Day: God of the covenant, in our baptism you call us to proclaim the coming of your kingdom. Give us the courage you gave the apostles, that we may faithfully witness to your love and peace in every circumstance of life, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

6:1He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “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!3Is 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?” And they took offense at him.4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.6And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching.7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts;9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.10He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

St. Mark 6:1-13 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Prophets Are not without Honor, Except in Their Hometown

An expert is someone who comes from at least 100 miles away to speak. Handouts used to be mandatory, then slides, now a PowerPoint® show. At a pastors’ conference last week, a colleague from Texas complained that whenever his synod gathered, they felt compelled to fly in a preacher from out of town when, in his opinion, there were a number of fine preachers serving congregations in their own territory. There was a time when we practiced that locally, arranging for “pulpit swaps” — usually during the Fall Stewardship Campaign — because we suspected that our own congregants might be inclined to take someone else’s preacher more seriously than their own.

It is interesting to consider why this might be the case. Are we impressed that someone would be asked to travel some distance to address us? Does the possession of an airline ticket stub and foreign credentials automatically give them authority? Do we suspect that the richest resources lie somewhere else (a more sophisticated take on, “The grass is always greener…”)?

Or is this piece of common wisdom a negative assessment of our own surroundings? Do we doubt that a co-worker, whose faults, biases and irritating habits are all-too-well known by us, could possibly have something unique and compelling to share? Are we concerned that our minds might tune out, when we find ourselves listening to the sound of that same, old familiar voice?

In the Gospel lesson, it appears that the second scenario is in play. After a time of ministering in distant cities and villages, drawing large crowds, and amazing them (1:22, 1:28, 2:12, 5:42), Jesus decides to return to his hometown. He visits the synagogue on the Sabbath to teach and his listeners are astounded, but in this case their astonishment is negative. They are offended that this common man, this carpenter, this son of Mary, this guy whose brothers and sisters are well known in town, should presume to share his “wisdom and power” with them. (Can you hear them spitting those words out with disdain?)

Perhaps it is true. Perhaps it is difficult to be transformed by someone we know too well. Perhaps Jesus is entirely too familiar to be useful, when it comes to those who knew him as he grew up.

The same may be true of us. What sort of image do we have of Jesus? Is it a familiar image? Is it a comforting image? Do the stands that Jesus takes and the pronouncements that Jesus makes fit like a glove with what we’ve come to believe? If so, then what do we do with the occasional word from Jesus that doesn’t fit in with our system of beliefs? How do we respond when he commands us to put the kingdom of God first (not second or third), or to become the one who risks everything to care for the neighbor, or to realize that becoming one of his followers will entail suffering and difficulty? It may be true that the image we have of Jesus is entirely too familiar to be useful for us.

It is in his strangeness that Jesus has power over us. He calls us to inhabit a world that is radically different from the one that surrounds us; from the one that we would make of our own choosing. A world where grace wins out over judgment. A world where generosity wins out over accumulation. A world where sacrifice wins out over ease. When presented with this world, will our astonishment be like that of the residents of Capernaum (1:21) or Nazareth (6:2)?

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why was Jesus received differently in Capernaum and Nazareth?
  2. What did his hometown neighbors, friends (and family?) think of him?
  3. Why were his “mighty works” unable to capture their attention?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I overlooked someone from my own world, because they were too familiar?
  2. What is “too familiar” about the way I understand Jesus?
  3. What strange or unfamiliar teaching of his is tugging at my heart right now?