By Jared A. Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
July 4, 2021
Mark 6:1–13 (ESV)
1 He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works 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 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching. 7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged 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 put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.
Today we have a couple of interesting stories to discuss. I really do not know where I am going with them because, I have just spent the week in my hometown. There is something amazing about hometowns. They are a place where we can relax and get back to our roots. I am, no matter how long I live in the city, a country boy. I say this not because I like country music or enjoy wearing boots and cowboy hats. That is not what I mean, although I tend to be seen in that manner at times. If you see me driving around listening to Willie Nelson, I urge you to encourage me to get out of town. I do not like listening to that music, but when I get to feeling too claustrophobic in town I will listen to the most insanely country, country music just to get some sense of being home.
We sometimes need to get home and back to our roots. We need to get home at times, to remind us of who we are and where we have gone. But there is a downside to going home at times, people know who you were. They remember those stories from when you were in high school. They remember the mistakes you once made, and they know who your relatives are. We often cannot see the people from our hometowns as who they are, we only see who they were. This is not a bad thing if you were well known back in the day, but if you were not regarded as one of the community’s elite it can be hard to overcome the past.
To be honest I do not know where I, personally stand in my hometown. I helped a great deal, I was involved in many different things, but I never stood out. I have always been involved, even today I get involved and many higher profile activities, but rarely do people associate my name to what is going on because I take a support or advisory role.
Jesus went back to his hometown. And our peculiar human nature shows through. He went to the synagogue to worship with the community, which was his custom. Throughout the gospel accounts we see Jesus joining the others within a community to worship together. As much as I would like to say that theologically we do not need to gather, I cannot say it. I know that there is nothing theologically requiring that we participate in worship to have access to the grace of God, but I recognize that there is a human need for it. We need this gathering to encourage, direct, correct, and promote our faith. If we neglect the meeting together, we will become distracted and eventually the light that once burned bright will diminish. And it will continue to diminish to the point that we will no longer even recognize that a light was even there.
Jesus made it his custom to worship, even when the people around him disagreed with his interpretation of scripture. He worshiped. I want us to consider that for a moment. Even when the people of the community did not recognize his interpretation of scripture as being right, he continued to worship. He continued to speak truth, but he did not let a difference of interpretation distract him from the point and purpose of worship. When we come to worship it is not about you or me, it is about God and us.
Jesus went to his hometown and on the Sabbath day he was in the synagogue worshiping. And when the opportunity came for him to offer teaching, the people were astonished by what he had to say. We often look at scriptures like this and we assume that what we are seeing in the verses of scripture resemble what we do on a Sunday morning. That is not necessarily the case. The Psalmist says that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Worship was the first and primary function, but just the beginning. The synagogue within the community was also the school, the library, the court, and the place common concerns of the community were discussed. The synagogue was a community center, within a community that centered on devotion to God. People would go to these places to worship, learn, raise awareness of issues, and to seek justice. The synagogue is not the seat of the community in our culture. There are aspects where this is the case but not as a whole.
Jesus went to the synagogue to worship, and then when that Meeting for worship was complete, he began to talk. The conversation grew. Questions were asked, answers were given, and a crowd began to build. It was not uncommon for this sort of thing to happen. It was common for teachers to travel among the various synagogues to offer teaching because the synagogue was a place of learning. But what was uncommon was that Jesus was teaching there in that synagogue.
Last week we spoke about the synagogue ruler or leader. The man whose daughter was ill to the point of death, the man who risked his very reputation to bring Jesus to his home to offer healing to his daughter. I mentioned his position but we may not fully grasp what that position was. This ruler or leader was the overseer of all the synagogue activities. The leader is the one that various teachers would contact to get permission to teach. They would go to the leader of the synagogue to secure meeting space and after the leader would promote the teacher within the community. It was important to make friends with the synagogue leader because they held power, and it was also important for the synagogue leader to maintain good standing within the community. The leader would probably seek teachers that would present a wide range of thought to give the community the greatest access to information, because it would be from these teachers that the various schools of thought would choose rabbis from. If a child showed any promise the teachers within the synagogue would recommend them for further training.
So, the ruler or leader of the synagogue would be seeking teachers, trying to offer the best teachers that their community could afford, to give the greatest opportunity to the community to learn and succeed. Jesus came to his hometown, without credentials. The synagogue ruler would not have given him space to teach, because he knew who Jesus had been. His teaching was not on the schedule and he did not have a room reserved. Jesus just simply began teaching, probably within the common meeting space, where people would gather to talk. But as he was talking the crowd grew and people were listening. This astonished the leaders. Maybe they were astonished because no one showed up to their class and they had a great lecture prepared, so they walked out to the hallway and heard someone talking and they too were captivated. Maybe they were astonished because they remembered Jesus sitting in their classroom and the way he was teaching was not something that was taught back then.
Jesus was there. He came to worship and ended up teaching. And the crowd could not believe what they were hearing. They began asking questions like where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? They asked these questions not because the disagreed with what he said, but because they knew who he was. They knew that Jesus was the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon. He was a carpenter.
This is an important word. Jesus was known as the carpenter. We do not fully grasp that phrase because our culture is a bit different. The synagogue was a community center, a place of community enrichment, education, history, justice, and worship. Everyone was part of the synagogue, which is why the threats of being put out of the synagogue was so great when we read through the gospel accounts. If you were put out of the synagogue you were not part of the community, you did not have access to education or justice. You were outside. All people within the community had access to a basic form of education, but unless a child was invited to learn under a rabbi, at the age of majority the child would go home and learn their family trade. Jesus was the carpenter. He went home to learn the family business he was not asked to learn from the rabbis or given the opportunity to continue in formal education. He was the carpenter. But notice again not only was he the carpenter, but he was also the son of Mary.
In this society men were recognized by their father. If we were to look at the list of the disciples, we have James and John the sons of Zebedee, and there is also James the Son of Alpheus. We even know that Peter’s dad’s name is Jonah. Several times in scripture we see the prefix bar which means son of. But this community does not say bar Joseph which was Jesus’s earthly father’s name, the name of the house and family business he would have joined. They knew him as bar Mary. He was his mother’s son. Jesus lived his entire life with a stigma within a community of uncertain parentage. They did not know who his dad because timing of his birth was questionable, but they knew his mother. And that stigma forced him to remain in a place within that community, he was the carpenter. He did not have access to anything more. When Jesus came home and is found teaching in that manner it astonished the crowd because they knew he was reaching beyond the place they had allowed him to remain. He was going beyond their expectations, and that movement within society threatened their positions.
Imagine you were a synagogue ruler in Nazareth and the rabbis you recruited failed to teach this man. And now years later here he is teaching in his hometown synagogue and everyone is looking at you and your crew wondering. Not only is Jesus threatening the understanding of your teaching, but the very fact that he is teaching undermines your authority within that community. Jesus is a threat to the very fabric holding that community together.
I want us to just think of that. They took offense not because of what he was teaching. The content was not the problem. It was who brought the content to the conversation. They took offense because the illusion of righteousness they held was at risk of being exposed as a fraud. They preached and taught certain things but their actions spoke differently. Jesus was not offered the same privileges because he was the son of Mary. Jesus saw what was happening before his eyes. People were listening and engaging, then the leaders entered the room and suddenly the tide turned. The crowd was reminded that Jesus was the carpenter, the son of Mary. Those few words suddenly sucked the life out from the room. And people were reminded that they should not listen to Jesus because if they did, they would be suspected of supporting perceived sinful activity. “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there.
We kind of pause and wonder why could Jesus not do mighty works in his hometown? Was it because they did not have enough faith? I do not think that was the case. They had faith in God. This is not a town that lacks faith. These are the families that produced a young woman that could say to God, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” You do not get that level of commitment from the youth within a community without faith among the elders. They fully expected God to do mighty things in their sight, but they like many of us expect those mighty things to come in specific ways, and through the right people.
Jesus could not do any mighty works among the people in his hometown for one simple reason, once the leaders reminded them of who he was, they walked away. They did not want to lose their standing within the community by associating with the offspring of a scandalous event. This should teach us something about ourselves.
Right after this encounter in his hometown, Jesus calls twelve to him, he then sends them out into the surrounding community with the authority over the unclean spirits they might encounter. He charges them to take nothing for their journey except a staff. He left specific instructions not to pack bread, or a bag, and no extra money. He told them to make sure they put on durable footwear, but not to take extra clothes. Jesus sent these men out into the surrounding community, with the clothes on their backs, the shoes on their feet, and a walking stick.
They had just watched the reaction that Jesus’s hometown gave him, and Jesus turns around and tells them to just go in faith. To walk out into the communities with the assurance that they have the power to do what God is calling them to do, and to expect that the community will provide for their needs. The disciples went out in faith proclaiming the gospel and they healed the sick and they liberated those that lived in bondage. Yet the people of Nazareth had Jesus sitting in their synagogue, and there was not a thing going on there. Why?
We have all that we need right here in our community already to do everything God needs us to do. What is keeping us from seeing God moving in mighty ways among us? We are.
We look at the things around us and we do not see that God can overcome. We have accepted that we are too small to make a difference. That we are too old to make changes. We have gotten comfortable and complacent. I want us to consider how we have acted toward people that may have expressed some calling to minister in a greater way. Did we encourage or were we hesitant? We are called to representatives of the kingdom of God. We are called to bear the Image of God and to represent him in the world confused and afraid of the shadows cast in the darkness. We are called to reflect the light of God in that darkness and to live with the boldness to cast out fear. Yet there is something that is causing us to hesitate, there is something holding us back. There is something keeping us from participating in God doing mighty works in our community. I cannot tell you what might be causing you personally to hesitate, but I can what is expressing itself in the wider community. Just like Jesus’s hometown we label. He was the son of Mary. Our own prejudices cause us to hesitate, they cause us to pause.
The truth is this Meetinghouse and this Meeting of the Church should be like the ancient synagogues, it should be a place of worship, education, justice, and encouragement. We should be a center of culture and civility. We should be encouraging deeper thought and discipleship. God is greater than our political ideologies, he is greater than our economies, he is greater than our ethnicity and race, but He uses all those things to teach us about himself. We need each other and all our uniqueness. We need all our stories, both of redemption and failure. We need all our sorrows and our praises. We need our complete diversity of experience because it opens our eyes to what God can do. And when we start to see what God can do, we begin to realize that God has and will use what we least expect to do might things. Capernaum got the glory of God’s work and Nazareth is seen as a judgmental town. Not because of faith in God, both believed God could do great things. But they became known in different ways because of how they treated those bearing the image of God to them. Let us always be able to see that of God in all people and let us trust that God can provide for what he is calling us to do.
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