Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Limitations of Jesus. Homily for Mark 6:1-6


Homily for 7.8.12
MARK 6:1-6 (see below)
Year B













The Lectionary Gospel reading for today offers us a rather startling challenge. Today, we are called to see Jesus as a genuine human being, with the normal limitations humans share. We are asked to see Jesus as one being subjected to the human condition just like all of us.

This text relentlessly pushes against the still constant pounding of the present day desire for a super-hero Jesus, or what is called in historic theology, a docetic Jesus, docetism being the heresy that teaches Jesus only appeared to have a human body and a human nature, but not in reality.

Well, today's text clearly points us in a different direction, giving us scriptural evidence that Jesus was a person, a real person, a person with limitations, a person just like us.

Here is our outline for today:

  • JESUS WAS UNABLE TO BE SEEN FOR WHO HE WAS 
  • JESUS WAS UNABLE TO DO GOOD WORKS 
  • JESUS WAS UNABLE TO UNDERSTAND THEIR LACK OF FAITH 


HE WAS UNABLE TO BE SEEN FOR WHO HE WAS
"Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples. When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, "Where did this man get all this?

What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?

And are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.
Jesus comes to Nazareth -- his home town, the place where he grew up, and where presumably his family of origin still lived -- and he begins to minister to people he knows from childhood. 

They hear his preaching, his message of the Kingdom concerning how the new wine cannot be held in the old wineskins, and rather than embrace the teaching, they outright reject it. Not only that, they even take offense at him and what he has become.

That is, they could only see what Jesus was and not the Jesus as anointed teacher, called prophet, or indeed, Jesus Messiah. They could only remember that they knew his family and his roots. They could only see the one who worked with calloused hands and not the one who brought a new, fresh and final work from GOD.

So they say:
"Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter...

R.T. France, in his commentary on Mark explains it in this way:
"To the people of Nazareth Jesus is the local boy, and they know no reason why he should have turned out to be any different from the rest of his family." (pg. 242)
I can almost hear their thinking:
"Just who does this guy think he is? Coming here and trying to teach us! Listen to him, trying to impress us with his new highfalutin authority, bringing us a new teaching, a new way that our Fathers did not teach. OK, Mr. Big-shot, just see what we do with your so-called teaching and miracles."
I am reminded in this regard of my first sermon, way back in the ancient days of 1972. I was eighteen, and oh so green. I remember I preached on the topic: Why GOD Must Judge America. I don't remember much about the message or how it was received, but I do recall one thing. I remember afterwards an older man, someone I deeply respected, came to me and in anger simply said: "Young man, you better get a lot older before you criticize America." I remember being shocked at his demeanor. It was an important, early lesson.

Anyway, the response of the people of Nazareth to Jesus should serve to remind us that we must be open to what GOD is doing, that GOD's word often comes to us in terms Spirit-refreshed not old and stale, and that we will miss this word to us if we can't see beyond his messenger. 

Or, said differently, GOD is most often at work in the most unlikely ways, using the most unlikely persons, and just because what GOD is doing is not what we expected, doesn't mean it is not GOD's work.



HE WAS UNABLE TO DO GOOD WORKS 
So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house."
So Messiah Jesus was unable to perform any mighty deeds there in Nazareth, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them, because of the people's unwillingness to believe.

Here, the result of the people's unbelief astounds the mind. Jesus was prevented from bringing good news through good deeds to his own home town because they did not believe. That is, Jesus' work is limited by their lack of faith.

Quoting Dr.France again:
"...the description that Jesus was unable to work miracles is christologically striking..." (pg.244) 
Well, this may be true for our theological understanding, but Mark's gospel often ties human faith to miraculous healings:
Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, "My son, your sins are forgiven." (MK.2:5)

Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. Frantically they woke him up, shouting, "Teacher, don't you even care that we are going to drown?" When he woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the water, "Quiet down!" Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. And he asked them, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still not have faith in me?" And they were filled with awe and said among themselves, "Who is this man, that even the wind and waves obey him?" (MK.4:38-40)

And he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. You have been healed." (MK.5:34)

The evil spirit often makes him fall into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us. Do something if you can." "What do you mean, 'If I can'?" Jesus asked. "Anything is possible if a person believes." 24 The father instantly replied, "I do believe, but help me not to doubt!" (MK.9:22-24)

We might well ask just why unbelief limited Jesus' work? 

Clearly, the point here is that GOD respects human freedom. If the people of Nazareth, or my home town even, do not want to hear from GOD ("he that has ears to hear, let him hear"), and if they do not want healings and deliverance to come ("he was not able to perform any mighty deed there"), then GOD will not force these good works on them.

Perhaps, the clearest Gospel example of this is Mary’s choice to be mother of the Messiah. Of course, GOD had chosen Mary for this sober task, but would Mary chose it as her life path (for, she did have a real choice)? I do not know what "plan b" was (or if there was one), but GOD, through the angel respects Mary's humanity, and waits for her answer: 
"Be it unto me as you have said,
perhaps the most astounding act of faith in the scriptures -- certainly in the New Testament. Of course, the alternative, that of GOD forcing the issue, was unthinkable. 

This idea of human freedom also informs our understanding of the coming, final and grievous judgment. I would assert even at the final moment, GOD respects the freedom of human choice, and that GOD's grace is such that no one will finally be separated from GOD's presence who does not want to be. Astoundingly, there will be those who choose that way. That is, there will be those who, based upon a life-time of sinful, deviant and hate-filled choices want no part of GOD or the light of life -- Jesus the King empowered by the Spirit, and so they will choose death rather than life.


HE WAS UNABLE TO UNDERSTAND THEIR LACK OF FAITH
"He was amazed at their lack of faith."
Finally, it seems clear that Jesus simply did not expect to be rejected by his hometown. These were the people he probably knew better than anyone else on the earth. These were the people for whom he probably carried the heaviest burden. And, yet, they wanted no part of him. Even his family will declare him crazy (and one wonders if this is because of their fear of ostracism by the community?). 

The Greek word here translated amazed, is the same word often used of the crowds when Jesus displays miraculous power. But here it is Jesus who is astounded and amazed at his own powerlessness and their defiant unbelief. (France, pg. 244)

Elsewhere Jesus is received, even celebrated, so much so that he often must council those whom he has helped to remain silent about what they have seen and experienced. But, not so in Nazareth.  

And so, the people of Nazareth, rather that experiencing the joy of a new way to live -- the way of freedom and hope -- continue in their same old, tired thoughts of prejudice and hate. Likewise, the people of Nazareth, rather than possessing the powerful moments of healing and deliverance that Messiah Jesus could have brought to them, left that day with their minds justified at rejecting him, but their sick were still sick and their possessed were still without deliverance. 

It was a bitter night in Nazareth.

Would to GOD that we would take to heart the illustration here given to us, that we would practice an open and pliant heart to the things of GOD, especially to the fresh and living leadership of the living Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Oh, Brothers and Sisters, would to GOD that we daily practice having ears attuned to where the Spirit is leading the church in these days of deep challenge and hopelessness, so that we do not miss the message and the deliverance the King offers us even this day.

_________________

MARK 6:1-6

Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples.
When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue,
and many who heard him were astonished.
They said, "Where did this man get all this?
What kind of wisdom has been given him?
What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!
Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary,
and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?
And are not his sisters here with us?"
And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them,
"A prophet is not without honor except in his native place
and among his own kin and in his own house."
So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,
apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.
He was amazed at their lack of faith.