A sermon delivered by Randy Hyde, Pastor, Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ark, on July 8, 2012.
Psalm 123:1-4; Mark 6:1-13
Oh, so Jesus thinks he’s the big shot now, does he? Coming back to town with his entourage in tow, taking over the synagogue on the sabbath, behaving as if he knows more about scripture than we do. Why, he’s nothing but a carpenter. And besides that, he left town so quietly we never even knew he was gone... until he came back acting the big man, what with his disciples following him and all. Disciples... he’s got disciples. Can you imagine that?!
Wait a minute. You know, he is a pretty good teacher, you’ve got to give him that. Now that we’ve had some time to listen to him for awhile we’re fairly impressed. He hasn’t been gone all that long, has he? Where did he pick up this knowledge of scripture? He’s not carrying a seminary diploma around him, insisting that we call him “Doctor.” Sure, his parents made certain he was in synagogue every sabbath, but the same can be said for all the other boys in town, and they don’t have his ability to teach. Where did the young carpenter get this?
And he has performed a few miracles. Nothing that extraordinary, mind you, but still pretty impressive when you think about it. This is Jesus, isn’t it, the son of Mary? Sure looks like Jesus. Sounds like him too, yet different somehow. Why, we know his brother James, the one who took up the slack when his big brother decided to bolt. And then there’s Joses and Judas and Simon, not to mention the girls in the family. When their daddy died he left a houseful of little ones, that’s for sure.
And that’s another thing... why didn’t Jesus stick around and help his mama with her brood, instead of running off to wherever it is he’s been staying? We heard he’s been spending a lot of time over in Capernaum, with the riffraff over there. What’s so special about Capernaum? That town’s just filled with unbelievers, not to mention the uncircumcised. What does he see in those people? And now, when he does come home, he hardly pays his own family any attention and acts like he owns the town! Boy, that takes a lot of nerve.
Jesus didn’t have to be a mind-reader to figure out what the people were thinking. They had it written all over their faces. This wasn’t just going to be a hard-sell, here in his hometown of Nazareth, it was going to be an impossible sell. So, in one of the few acts of submission on Jesus’ part, he more or less threw up his hands and said to the people who thought they knew him so well, “Prophets are not without honor except – except – in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”
Let’s freeze it right there, like they do occasionally in the movies. Jesus is telling them that not only is he not getting any respect from the hometown folk, but could it be that he’s getting a push-back from his own family as well? “...and among their own kin, and in their own house.” If that’s true, Jesus’ heart might just be a bit bruised at the moment at the thought that he’s not being received so well even by his own family.
Have you ever been rejected? It’s tough, isn’t it? It’s not easy knowing there are folk near you who don’t like you and don’t want you around anymore.
I had a friend who once had a high-paying, responsible position with an international company. If I were to tell you the name of it, you would recognize it immediately. Things weren’t going well for him, and we talked about it on a number of occasions. He was slowly but surely being pushed out by the big boss, the one who had hired him. It seems the owner of the company made it a practice of bringing up young executives like my friend, getting them into high positions in the company, and then tightening down the screws until they were forced to resign from the pressure he was exerting upon them. Then, he would hire new young bucks and start the process over.
My friend told me openly about what it was doing to his sense of self-worth. He was beginning to feel useless... to his company, to himself, to his family, his friends, his church. It took a long time for him to work through all this, but not until he left that company and went into business for himself. And even then the pain still lingered.
It’s not easy to be rejected by others, and when some of those folk who are rejecting you are family... well, you can only imagine how it must feel. Because of their rejection, we are told in Mark’s gospel, Jesus “could do no deed of power there...” except for a few simple cures. In his own hometown, and among the people who knew him best, Jesus had hit the wall and could do nothing.
The gospels are filled with Jesus’ miracle stories. This, as far as we can tell, is the only case of an un-miracle story.1
Mental images are important, so I want to try and plant one in your mind. Picture, if you will, Jesus and his disciples leaving town after having been rejected. There is a mixture of dismay and disbelief on the faces of his followers as they are talking with one another. “What happened back there? I don’t get it. We’ve been received so well by all the places we’ve visited. Yet, when we go to Nazareth where Jesus was raised, among the people who have known him all his life, we are totally and completely rejected. What’s wrong with these people? Do they not know who Jesus is, do they not know what Jesus is? Do they not care that he is the Promised One of Israel?!”
Now, look at the faces of the townsfolk, which evidently includes Jesus’ own family. There, on their faces, you will see a mixture of emotions as well... of anger, of confusion, maybe even some hatred. “Good riddance. We never understood you before, and we don’t want you bringing your self-styled messiahship to our town. Just leave, and don’t bother ever to come back!”
They took offense at him, Mark tells us. Somehow, that seems to be an understatement. They took offense at him, and Jesus could do nothing.
Of course, that says a lot more about them than it does Jesus, and when we start to realize that, we begin to get a bit warm around the collar (not that being warm is hard to do these days) because we know that what was true of those inhospitable people in Nazareth is dangerously true of us as well. When Jesus is powerless to do anything around here, do you think it is because Jesus has lost his power? Don’t think so. It is because we’ve lost our ability to believe, truly believe... and to follow. And maybe we’ve lost our courage to risk new things in his name.
It’s not as if Jesus had lived out his ministry only in Nazareth. It’s not as if he had not had some success in other places, on the part of those who took him for what he was able to do and did not make assumptions based on their previous understanding of him. Jesus was fully aware of his own capabilities, yet knew that a prophet is not without honor in his own hometown. Yet, we are told, he marveled at their inability – or should we say, their unwillingness – to accept him.
It could have been a deal-breaker. Jesus might have said, “Well, it was good while it lasted, but if I can’t even get a receptive audience in my own hometown, there’s little chance I’ll be accepted anywhere else as well. I think I’ll fold up my tent and go home.” But wait... he couldn’t very well go home, now could he? Certainly not now. So what did he do? According to Mark, “...he went about among the villages teaching.” Instead of wallowing in bitterness, when that one door in Nazareth closed resolutely behind him, he decided to go looking for other doors that would be opened to him.
For those of you who have been here the two previous Sundays, you might recall that we delved into Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth. I don’t know about you, but it was fun for me to see the interaction between the apostle and these folk who were finding it so challenging to be the presence of Christ. I came across an insight just this week that sheds a whole new light on Paul and his life and ministry, at least for me.
You are probably aware that most, if not all, of his writings were done from a prison cell. It must have been very difficult for Paul to live with the disgrace that comes from finding one’s self in jail. And imagine how hard it must have been to be so confined. Paul was an activist, if not a little hyper-active. Nothing made him happier than traveling from city to city, region to region, establishing churches and preaching the gospel. But, his unwillingness to compromise got him in trouble at points, and sometimes that trouble landed him in jail. So what did Paul do as he languished in jail? Did he simply sit and mope, feeling sorry for himself and for what happened to him? No, he did what was left for him to do. He took up pen and paper and wrote letters... letters of encouragement, letters of admonition. He challenged, he scolded, he informed, he inspired. “He proceeded not just to endure this inconvenience but to utilize it as a way of getting on with his work.”2
Where did Paul get the encouragement to respond this way? Was it simply in his DNA? No, he was inspired by his Lord and Master, the very One who took the rejection of his own hometown folk, as well as his family, and used it as an incentive to resume his ministry in places where he would be well-received. It may very well have been in his hometown of Nazareth that a realization came to Jesus, an insight we find in scripture when Jesus says, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” When that is true, no amount of rejection will keep him from fulfilling his calling.
John Claypool says that Jesus “visualized Himself surrounded like a moat by the presence of God, which means that nothing could ever touch Him without first passing under the Father’s eye and through the Father’s hands.”3 If, somehow, you and I could find it in ourselves to feel the same way, imagine what Jesus could do in this place!
I wonder sometimes if our familiarity with Jesus – or at least what we consider to be our familiarity with him – doesn’t get in the way of our accepting him on a level we have never experienced before. When it comes to faith, we feel as if there is nothing new under the sun. We’ve journeyed as far as we can go, there is nothing new to learn. I wonder sometimes if Jesus can do no deed of power in us because we think we know him so well.
The folks in Nazareth were “astounded” at Jesus’ teaching. The Greek word for “astounded” is exeplessonto. It’s hard to even say it without an exclamation point in your voice... exeplessonto! But such astonishment could be a bad thing as well as good.4 In other words, Jesus’ hometown folk are not bored with Jesus, they just don’t understand him and because they don’t understand him they don’t believe in him. Around here, it’s not so much a lack of understanding as it is an easy acceptance in our hearts. Believing in Jesus is a matter of course in these parts. Everybody believes in Jesus, or so it seems. But does that believing lead to that which is life-changing? We talk a pretty good game, but do our actions, when we are not gathered in these four walls, support what we profess?
Folks in Jesus’ day didn’t have surnames. There were no Smiths, no Joneses, and certainly no Hydes. If people were not identified by their fathers, as in Simon bar Jonah, they were identified by their hometowns. That was more true, of course, when they were not in their hometowns. At three critical points in Mark’s narrative of Jesus, he refers to him as “Jesus of Nazareth.”5 “Jesus of Nazareth.” It implies that Jesus may have thought of himself that way. Rather odd, don’t you think, for one who was rejected by his hometown? If my hometown had done that to me, I don’t think I would tell anybody where I was born and raised. And I certainly wouldn’t use it as a surname. Would you?
Maybe it’s a way for Mark to tell us that, while Jesus may have been rejected by his hometown folk, Jesus never rejected them. If that is true, perhaps it can give hope to you and me, that no matter when or how or where we turn our backs on Jesus, he never does the same to us. I find great encouragement in that, don’t you? If so, why don’t we commit together to make this a place where Jesus can do everything!
Lord, when we ask you to be present to us, may you find us accepting you on your terms and not ours. It is not easy for us to do, but in those moments that it happens, grace comes to us and we are most fully yours. May that moment be now, we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.
1Barbara Brown Taylor, Bread of Angels (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications, 1997), p. 105.
2John Claypool, “Clay or Wax,” unpublished sermon, August 25, 1974.
4George C. Heider, TCC, June 30, 2009.