Mark 6:1–13 (NRSV)
The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth
(Mt 13:54–58; Lk 4:16–30)
6 He left that place and 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.
The Mission of the Twelve
(Mt 10:5–15; Lk 9:1–6)
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.
In most relationships there is some expectation involved. It might not be really expressed but we all have an expectation of the people we interact with. When those expectations are not realized or if the person does not meet our expectation, we tend to get upset. Maybe upset is a strong word, maybe it is disappointed. In marriages people often say that money is the number one problem, but if you look a bit deeper than the money issues you would find that the real issue is that there was an unrealized expectation that once a couple was married financial issues would be something of the past. There was an expectation, yet when reality sets in marriage costs more than being single. You cannot buy what you want because if each person does you end up spending twice as much money.
We have all experienced unrealized expectations. Your pastor does not play the guitar, and you might have wanted him to. But what if the expectation was different, what if someone exceeded your expectation. What if they started doing things that were beyond what you thought? This happens to us as well. Imagine that you love to cook, everyone enjoys what you prepare for them. Then out of nowhere your spouse makes something amazing, the best thing you have eaten in a while, and suddenly you feel inadequate. They just took your thing. Now you either must one up them or you must find a new thing, a new identity.
Expectations, we all have them and we all have trouble dealing with them. In today’s passage we meet Jesus, his hometown, and the disciples facing the challenges of expectations. Jesus left Capernaum and returned to Nazareth. As was his custom, he went to the synagogue to worship with the rest of the community. While he was at this place of learning and worship, he began to teach. The first century synagogue was like churches today, but also more. There was usually a primary school where the boys were taught the scriptures, and most learned the basics of reading. They would attend this school until they were twelve or thirteen, when they were either asked to continue their learning or they would go to learn the family trade. If they were asked to continue in their education, the Rabbi would personally teach the boys, who after their thirteenth birthday were considered men, and begin to train them to become rabbis or scribes. But even if they were not asked to continue in this educational route the synagogue was still a place of learning for the men. It was not uncommon for community or traveling Rabbis to visit synagogues and have community classes. It would be like a public library, where they have story time for the toddlers, have various activities that you can enroll in as children, and then there would be community enrichment opportunities where you could learn about other things. For example, at the Red Bridge Library just down the street, you could take a class to learn how to use the excel software, learn to knit or quilt, or just enjoy reading a book within a group and discussing it. The public library is in many ways the most foundational educational institute available in a community. So, in the first century even if you were not asked to extend your formal education there were always things that you could learn along the way. The men would work throughout the day and when classes or lectures were offered they would go to the synagogue to listen and learn.
Jesus went to the synagogue when he returned home and while he was there they were in a discussion forum where he began to teach people about the scriptures, and his interpretation of them. There were Rabbis within this group along with men of the community. They knew who Jesus was. Some of them might have attended the primary school with him, and there might possibly have been one of the rabbis present that taught the class. They knew him, and they knew that he did not take the formal extension in education. We do not know why Jesus did not do this. When he was of age to take these formal classes, he had the aptitude because when he was twelve and failed to follow his parents away from the temple, they found him in deep discussion with the rabbis and priest when they realized he was not with them or the traveling companions. Which would lead me to believe that Mary and Joseph might not have been able to afford to allow Jesus to take those classes, either because they did not have the finances or Joseph needed help in the family trade.
The community knew that Jesus did not have the credentials. They knew that he was a carpenter, not just Joseph but Jesus was a carpenter. From the age of twelve or thirteen Jesus along side his family, working with wood, stone, and other materials they helped build the homes and other building in Nazareth and the surrounding area. The word for carpenter was not solely dealing with wood, like we understand today. The term was used for anyone that worked with wood and other hard materials. And unlike today houses were not built completely out of wood, the wood was usually reserved for framing and hanging doors. Jesus was basically a local handyman, he was a blue-collar laborer, he a common man just like most of us, and that was exactly what the community expected out of him.
When Jesus began to teach at his home synagogue people began to wonder. Who is this man? Where did he get this learning? Isn’t this the carpenter, Mary’s son? The expectation they had for him was not met, in fact he exceeded what was expected of him which was just as bad if not worse. What they are asking is, who does he think he is? Does he think he is better than us? And if you notice they say, “Mary’s son.” They do not say Joseph, which can mean two things, maybe Joseph has already died and has been dead a considerable time. Which is highly likely since we do not hear about him after Jesus was found in the temple at the age of twelve. Or they are remembering that the birth of this man was scandalous. Mary’s illegitimate son, the son of Mary’s that was conceived prior to marriage.
Jesus is teaching with authority, and he is not remaining in the social status his community accepts him in. He was not one of their elites, he was a commoner, and that could not handle him doing things beyond his place.
I want us to think about that for a moment. They were not upset at what Jesus was teaching, they were upset that Jesus was teaching. In their minds, Jesus was just a carpenter. That was his place, that was his role. In their mind he was not worthy of having a greater role because they had not given it to him, or he had not paid the proper social cost to achieve it. He had gone beyond their expectation and for them to accept that they would have to humble themselves. To humble themselves they would have to step down from their roles within the community, their perceived power or control over the others within the community, and they would have submitted to someone they perceive as being socially beneath them. We see this throughout culture. In history the feudal system had a social hierarchy. There were peasants and noblemen. The nobles were treated in special ways because their position demanded it. And peasants no matter how skilled they were would always be beneath them. The only way for a peasant to rise was to join the monastery and potentially work their way up within the church, but even then, there were sons of nobles that had privilege and would start a few steps ahead. There was also second way that a peasant might move up socially, to be strong enough to take the honor by force. Even today, even in our culture there are hierarchies. One of the first statements against our current president that was mentioned in the campaign was that he did not have the knowledge and experience to lead the country. He was not highly educated in universities, he was not a career political figure, so how could he lead? For some that made him attractive, and for others that gave them great fear. People that move beyond the expectation of society make us uncomfortable. And Jesus made his townsmen very uncomfortable.
It was not that the teaching it was who was teaching them. And because of this they closed their ears, they hardened their hearts against him. Mark tells us that because of this, Jesus could do no deeds of power there. This is an interesting statement. Jesus, God incarnate, could do nothing in his home town. Have you ever stopped to think about why that was? Is it our faith or the faithfulness of God that brings healing? Why was Jesus, the one that could cast out a legion of demons from a man, the one who could heal a woman with a chronic illness that had plagued her for over a decade, and could raise a dead child back to life, why was Jesus unable to do works of power in his hometown? Because he was a carpenter.
Jesus taught that we do not have because we do not ask, and when we ask we ask incorrectly. It was not that Jesus could not heal, or that the faith of the people would not allow the power of Jesus to work, they simply would not ask. They did not believe. They would not put their trust in a carpenter, they would rather trust their local rabbi, at least they knew he had the proper education, unlike Mary’s son the carpenter.
Do we ever do this? Yes, we do it all the time. How many of us struggle with sin? How many of us suffer and struggle with health or some other hardship? How many of us share those struggles with our community? We often do not share because what can they do? They are just a computer guy, or a vet, or they work in an office, or Target. We know who they are and why would we entrust our lives into their hands, or our reputation? We do not share and because we do not share are we hindering the power of God to work within our community? Or maybe we have potential leaders within our Meeting, people who have a gift that would enhance our ministry, but we do not nominate them. Or if someone does nominate them we do not consider it because we know who they are, and they do not have the perceived credentials to do it. They either do not meet our expectations or they are trying to exceed them, and it makes us uncomfortable.
Jesus was amazed at the unbelief of his townsmen. This lack of belief, this lack of trust in the awesome power of God restricted them. They could not see God work in and through them because they were too worried about their expectations. The people in neighboring villages were seeing God do amazing things, yet in their town nothing. They believed, but the did not BELIEVE. They did not trust, they did not entrust, and because of that they did not actually experience the grace of God. They did not experience God, because they were focused on themselves. They were so self-centered that if they could not do it no one could, especially the illegitimate carpenter son of Mary.
Jesus and the twelve leave and visit the neighboring villages, where he continued to teach. It is likely just like in Nazareth, Jesus went to the villages’ synagogue to do this. It is likely he taught the exact same things that he did in his hometown, but in these villages, they did not have the same expectations. In fact, they heard about what Jesus could do and they believed. There was a different issue in these villages, did they hope only in Jesus or did they hope in God no matter who the messenger was? At this point, Jesus begins to send the disciples out to minister. They had heard him teach, they had seen him minister, they had went out into the isolated places with Jesus to pray. They had observed Jesus’s holy lifestyle and were actively participating in that disciplined life. Jesus sends them out. They expected to follow Jesus, did they expect to go out representing him in this manner? Jesus sends them out saying, “you have the authority to do everything I do.” But do they believe? Who are we, they might ask. I am just a fisherman, I am an unworthy tax collector no one will trust me. I do not have the training or education… the same doubts that prevented Nazareth from experience the power of God, could also prevent the disciples to experience the power of God. But they trust Jesus. They know that if he says something, it will happen. And they go holding to that promise.
They go just as he says, they stay in the homes where they are invited. They leave without money or food and take only the clothes on their backs and a staff. They go. Jesus says that they might encounter people with the same spirit as those in Nazareth, and he says if they do not receive you just shake the dust off your sandals and move on. So, they go. They enter the villages, they stay at home, they knock dust off their feet, and they trust that Jesus said they have authority, so they have it. And when they meet with the people they teach the message of repentance or returning to God in the name of Jesus. And when there is a demon tormenting an individual they boldly command the demon to leave in the name of Jesus. When there is an illness they anoint the person with oil and pray in the authority of Jesus and the people are healed. They do all and can do all this because they believe, they trust, and they entrust their lives to Jesus.
Which brings us back to today. What are our expectations with God, our community, and ourselves? What or who are we placing our trust in? Do we believe that God can do the things that He claims or do we only trust in ourselves? Are we willing to hope? I will be very honest with you all, at times I do not trust. At times I am down right afraid and unwilling to move because what if God does not meet my expectations? At times I am comfortable in the status quo, not making waves because who am I and who are they that we should question? At times is am just like the people in Nazareth, at times I will not speak about my weaknesses because I am afraid that if I expose them I will lose. At times I even question the message I feel God is directing me to speak. I and often we, do not believe, and our lack of belief is hindering what God can do through us. And because we do not believe we fail to experience what God would like to do through us.
Jesus told his disciples to take nothing for the journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belt; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. Go with what you have right now. Go share the hope that you have. Go: Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. Go.
As we enter a time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends I ask what is keeping us from going? And what might happen if we were did?