2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10, Psalm 48, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13
These two stories, while not parables in the traditional sense, are parables for ministry when you put them together. These two stories should be read frequently by followers of Jesus Christ and perhaps by pastors in particular. These two stories – one of Jesus’ rejection by those who knew him best and one of instructions for those who would do Jesus’ work – have much to offer us as we go on the Way.
In Mark, Jesus’ unwelcomed visit to his hometown comes about midway in his ministry. He has had much success and the disciples have witnessed it. He has healed and taught, cast out demons and resurrected a little girl from the dead. Word has gotten out, and even in the absence of social media, the crowds have grown. At this point in the narrative one can imagine that the disciples are pleased to be associated with such a celebrated healer, teacher and prophet. They are insiders, close to the one others clamor to touch. Following Jesus looks like a good career move, an opportunity to be upwardly mobile, a means to be close to power and fame.
We know what’s ahead – but the disciples don’t. There are few leaks in Mark’s messianic secret and all signs indicate that Jesus’ notoriety will spread and with it the crowds and accolades. It is good to be on the Way with Jesus. Up to this point.
Leaving the place of the little girl’s amazed family, Jesus and his disciples go to Jesus’ hometown. If ever he will be welcomed it will be here. He does indeed garner astonishment, but not because of the miracles or the authoritative teaching, but because those who know him best can’t see past what they think they know about him. Isn’t this Mary and Joseph’s boy? Isn’t he a carpenter? Who does he think he is? And now it is Jesus’ turn to be amazed… amazed at the unbelief of those closest to him.
I wonder what Peter and James and John and the others think about this particular stop on the ministry tour? Did they question whether or not to keep following? Maybe they huddled together and asked, “Do you think they know something we don’t?”
Scene one for this week ends with Jesus able to do little and shaking his head at the reception he received… by those who knew him best. This is a turning point in the narrative.
Following Jesus isn’t all about crowds clamoring to get close to demon-felling power. It isn’t only about grateful people, healed and made well. It isn’t solely about people so awed by teaching and preaching that stealing away in a boat is necessary. No, it is also about rejection, even by the ones who know us best and we’d thought had loved us most.
The Jesus Way is not an easy way and lest disciples believe otherwise, this Nazareth stop is painful evidence that God’s mission is not always welcomed.
This isn’t easy to preach. When numbers are down and worship is far from an automatic choice on Sunday morning, how do we proclaim, “The Jesus Way is a hard way”?
The Jesus Way is a hard way. Crowds clamoring to touch one day may well be the very same ones calling for crucifixion another. The ones you love the most may well want to hear you least. Those eager to be on the mountaintop with you will desert you in the garden. The disciples in Mark don’t know this yet, but we do.
The Jesus Way is no easy way. This Sunday’s first scene foreshadows the grimmer rejection yet to come. In these days when too often we proclaim a gospel of moral therapeutic deism, this may be a scene we need to sit with for a while.
Sit with this scene and ponder whether or not our discipleship is easy and comfortable. When has our congregation’s witness amazed to the point of irritation? When have those in the community around us grumbled that we need to stay in our place and remember we are just that Presbyterian Church on the corner? Aren’t those people in the pew the servers at the local restaurant or the banker in the branch on main? What do they think they are doing talking about justice? Working for peace?
If we haven’t amazed the hometown crowd to the point of irritation, if the Jesus Way hasn’t been a hard way, then we might be on the wrong way.
The disciples, up to this point, may not have known that following Jesus was hard, but now they have a glimpse of it. In a context of radical pluralism, rabid individualism and revered consumerism, we need to sit with this scene and glimpse it, too.
The Jesus Way is not an easy way, that’s the message to drive home in scene one. As uncomfortable as that truth is, sit with a while.
And then go to scene two. Preach with confidence that the Jesus Way, on this July 4th weekend, is also the way to true freedom.
The Jesus Way is the way to freedom. We are burdened by things, by worry, by fear, by a paralyzing comparison of ourselves with others, by cynicism, by anger, by guilt, by so much that keeps us from the freedom Jesus offers.
This odd juxtaposition of Jesus’ rejection and the sending of the twelve is a parable of discipleship: the Jesus Way is not an easy way, but it is the way to freedom.
Take note of what we are given permission to let go of when we follow Jesus. We can let go of loneliness. We are on this Way together, inextricably bound through Christ. We can let go of a need for power. God gives us the power we need to do the work God has given us to do. We can let go of things. They don’t confer status in God’s Kingdom. We can let go of the need to be accepted and the fear of being rejected. God has claimed, called and sent us. If people welcome us, thanks be to God. If they don’t, we move on and allow God to work on their spirits. We can let go of success. The results of our efforts are entirely up to God. Our focus is on following Jesus and faithfully continuing his ministry of preaching, healing and teaching.
So while the Jesus Way is not an easy way, it is the only way to true freedom.
Consider with your congregation where you might go and what you might do if you embraced the Jesus Way of these two stories. You might find people questioning your right to preach and teach and heal. Just who do those lawyers and teachers and retirees and youth and mothers and grandfathers think they are? Isn’t that group from the Presbyterian Church? What are they doing hosting homeless people in their building? Why are their church vans parked outside the State House? Do they have any business showing up at the school board meeting? Is the minimum wage really any of their concern?
What if your congregation embraced the truth that the Jesus Way is not the easy way? Others will surely notice you, could be astounded by you, may want to silence you.
That’s why you better let those gathered this Sunday in on the additional truth found in part two of this discipleship parable: The Jesus Way is the way to true freedom.
Invite them to be set free. There is so much that they are clinging to and that clings to them that they can shake off. Heck, sing a little Taylor Swift if it will bring it home.
Proclaim the Good News that Jesus Christ has set them free: from isolation, from powerlessness, from the exhausting and unending quest of acquiring, from worthlessness and aimlessness and fear. Now imagine together where you might go and what you might do, together, if you embraced the truth of this Jesus freedom.
These two stories tell us, show us, that our only concern is faithfulness. We need to go on our Way, preach and teach and heal and not worry about results or success or acceptance. It won’t be easy, but it will set us free.
- The epistle lesson this week is 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 where Paul boasts in weakness. He says, “When I am weak, I am strong.” How is this possible? Have you ever experienced this? How would you explain this to someone who isn’t Christian?
- Jesus is rejected in his home town at least in part because the people who knew him can’t get past their expectations. Are there people God may want to use to speak to us that we can’t hear because of our expectations? Stereotypes we can’t get past?
- There is among the people of Nazareth a disdain for the familiar. The saying, “familiarity breeds contempt” may have some truth. Where is this evident in the church? We are often called upon to change and jettison things that are no longer relevant. Could there be practices and things that are familiar and worthy of keeping, looking at differently, listening to more carefully?
- Jesus’ instructions for the 12 emphasize traveling light and trusting others to provide hospitality. Consider both sides of that: What do we need to leave behind in order to do the work we are called to do? When and how do we offer hospitality to those doing God’s work?
- Write a contemporary version of the instructions in Mark 6:8-11.
- Consider the admonition to “shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” The history of this act is rooted in the symbolic act of Jews returning from Gentile areas shaking the dust off their feet when they returned to the Holy Land. (“Mark,” Eugene Boring, page 176) What does it mean in this text? What about for us in our context?
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