July 4, 2021 Sixth Sunday After Pentecost The text is Mark 6: 1-13.
1 [Jesus] came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.2 On 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! 3 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?” And they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If 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.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning’s Gospel consists of two separate, very different stories. Well, maybe not all that different. While they appear to be unrelated, they are in some ways rather interdependent. At first glance they are very dissimilar. The first is about Jesus being rebuffed in his hometown.
In the second we find the disciples being sent out two-by-two on a preaching and healing road trip.
How can these two seemingly divergent stories be reconciled to one another? Before we relate them together let’s take a look at them separately.
Initially, the hometown crowd was ‘astounded’ as the gospel tells us. Then, apparently something changed. The people of Nazareth decided that they couldn’t bring themselves to honor their native son. Did you catch the very pointed way they referred to Jesus; as Mary’s son? Not the son of his father, which in Hebrew is ‘Yeshua, ben-Yosef’, ‘Jesus, son of Joseph’; which is how any male would have been referred to in Jesus’ time. But no, his childhood playmates referred to him as the son of Mary, his mother. The Nazarenes were going to be sure they didn’t let Jesus forget that Mary was pregnant before her marriage. The scandal remained and apparently was not forgotten, nor forgiven. Joseph might have been satisfied that the angel of the Lord spoke the truth to him of Mary’s conception by the Holy Spirit, but the all too human, gossiping citizens of Nazareth apparently didn’t fully buy into the story. And they weren’t going to let Jesus forget it. Thirty-some years have gone by and Jesus was still, as far as they were concerned, the illegitimate son of a poor peasant girl.
Mark tells us that Jesus wasn’t able to do much in the way of ‘deeds of power’ and could only heal a few sick folks. Is it possible that the people’s unbelief got in the way of Jesus’ ability to perform miracles? It appears that one must have faith in the healer for the cure to take hold, although this is a topic for another time. Jesus’ childhood, hometown neighbors couldn’t bring themselves to bestow honor on one of their own. I suppose that in some way, if they did, they thought it might somehow diminish their own sense of honor, of their self-pride. Taking all this into account it seems understandable that Jesus would depart Nazareth, amazed at the unbelief exhibited by those who knew him best.
Now let’s contrast that with the second portion of the Gospel. Jesus heads out to the villages nearby Nazareth, does a little teaching and a little healing. This was apparently another step in bringing Christ’s message out from his hometown, into the wider world.
Remember, he’s been preaching and healing all over the general area, with varying degrees of success. It’s just that things didn’t go quite so well back in the old neighborhood. So then, it seems Jesus decides it’s time to leave Nazareth behind and send the disciples out to hit the road.
A couple of interesting points to consider here; He sends them out in pairs. Arguably, two can be more effective than a single person, but I suspect this plan had more to do with the dangers that could befall someone alone out on the road. Jesus gave them authority and power over ‘unclean spirits’, a fancy way in the first century to describe illness, physical and mental, and also used to euphemistically name outright evil.
And talk about travelling light; Jesus told the twelve to bring almost nothing with them, only a walking staff and the flip-flops they were wearing. No money, no belt, no food, just a T-shirt. That’s all a ‘tunic’ really was, a long cotton pullover. Notice, only one tunic, not two. Tough luck if they couldn’t find a place to stay and had to sleep in the desert at night. If you’ve been to the American Southwest, you know how cold deserts can be once the sun goes down. Here’s the rough part. He tells them, if they are not welcomed, if the Gospel is rebuked, “shake the dust of your feet” and walk away. It sounds like Jesus is forewarning the disciples that they may be rejected the way he was in Nazareth. But, according to Scripture they were rather successful, spreading the Good News, healing the sick, casting out demons.
All this begs the question, “why was the Gospel received by strangers and refused by the locals?”. Could it simply be their inability to separate the Gospel message of Christ from Jesus, the man? Was it their unwillingness to elevate the stature of one they knew as a boy; as the misbegotten offspring of an unwed peasant girl? Perhaps it was because the people of Nazareth were just unable to believe that someone so familiar could rise to a level so far above their own station in life. It’s likely that it would be darn near impossible for any of them to admit that someone they knew as a child could actually be the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God.
Truth be told, I think if we were longtime residents of Nazareth and knew Jesus as a boy, it would be tough for us to buy into this possibility. So, let’s not be too hard, too judgmental on Jesus’ homies. I can’t say I blame them; it’s a tough pill to swallow.
Back then to the twelve. Off they go, into the outlying towns. Mark doesn’t tell us exactly where, but he does let us know that they were successful. Maybe it was the Good News itself that was so eagerly accepted by those they preached to. But maybe it had something to do with the way Jesus prepared them. Remember, no funds, no belt, no food; just sandals, one shirt, and a stick. It would seem they had nothing to help them in their task, just the willingness of people to accept them, to be open to listen to the message of the Gospel. So it would seem. But there was one more thing they had, one vastly important tool they could use; Jesus gave them the authority, the power to deal with opposition.
It wasn’t about the disciples, or their unencumbered travel mode. It wasn’t about sandals, shaking dust of their feet, or not having a spare shirt. All these things combined so that nothing would hold them back; they wouldn’t be hindered by ‘baggage’. They were empty vessels; their abilities came from the power of the living God! They were admonished by Jesus to let go of their own needs, their preconceived notions of success or failure. Their own worry about acceptance or rejection. They must have witnessed, or at least heard about the repudiation Jesus himself faced in Nazareth. This must have been on their minds as they traveled forth. I’m sure they said to themselves; “if Jesus himself was disrespected in his hometown, what can we expect, preaching repentance to strangers in unfamiliar places?”
Jesus knew this was in the minds of the twelve. That’s precisely why he sent them out so seemingly ill-prepared for their journey. He knew they had all they really needed, even if they didn’t know it. They had the power to preach, anoint, and heal bestowed upon them by Christ himself. Jesus knew that it was time for his message of salvation to be spread beyond himself, by others. His recent hometown failure wasn’t going to stop the Good News from spreading throughout the world.
Whether the disciples knew it or not, they were predestined to be successful in their ministry. They couldn’t fail; Jesus gave them the power to succeed.
Now what about us? We know that we have been called to live into faithful Christian lives, to do those things that we are directed to do, just as the first disciples were commanded. Emanuel’s mission is to serve God’s people wherever there is need. We are sent out just as the twelve were. Sometimes in pairs, occasionally in a large group, often alone.
But we are not ill-equipped; we bring with us more than just sandals, one shirt, and a staff. The disciples were given power and authority by Jesus himself. We might think to ourselves, “yes, but we weren’t given that same in-person empowerment, that ability to minister to others”. Ah, but yes, we were. We received that very same grace at our Baptism. God; Father, Son, and Spirit were present when we were told that we were now a “child of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever”. The grace of God was poured out through the power of the Holy Spirit, and Christ himself claimed us. The power of the Gospel is made real for every baptized Christian, for every member of God’s own family. We have the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit with us, now and forever.
Just as with the twelve, nothing can stop us in our mission either. We can’t fail, because Christ travels with us, he abides within us. We just have to occasionally remind ourselves that this is true, that we don’t travel the road alone. The light that is Christ Jesus will not be hidden; it cannot be contained within these walls. Each time someone is fed, clothed, or sheltered the light of Christ is seen. But it doesn’t always have to be a thing of large magnitude. Christ’s presence may be made real in a friendly smile, a hand on the shoulder of one who is hurting, an attentive ear for the one who yearns to be heard. Often, in the smallest things, the light shines brightest. So have no fear, we have all that we need to go forth as did the twelve. Jesus sends us out to be his light, equipped with the power and authority to succeed. We are armed with the Gospel and Christ goes with us.
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and Holy God, give us the will, the strength, and the faith to go forth as disciples of Christ. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the one who although denied at home, changed the world. Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.