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Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before July 5, 2015

Mark 6:1-13

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2On 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! 3Is 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. 4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If 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.” 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

What I Am Learning:

There is an old saying among pastors: To be an expert on a subject you need to travel 50 miles. Another saying gets at the same dynamic: familiarity breeds contempt. First century Palestinian people certainly shared these common human tendencies.

But there is an additional issue in the first century: Like begets like. If your family farms an orchard, then you be an orchardist. If your family shepherds goats or sheep then you will be a shepherd. If your family has low status you will too. If your family has high status you will benefit from high status.

They tended not to imagine that people could have individual initiative to improve their educational or economic or political status as we do in the West. This led to a highly stratified and rigid society that could not easily change. The reason why the Gospels call Jesus the “son of God” is to claim that his status comes from God and so others can and should listen to him.

As a person born to a lowly family of a carpenter, Jesus would be expected to be a lowly carpenter and mind his own business.

God had other plans for Jesus.

The reason Jesus is amazed at their unbelief is that throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, which the people of his town taught him, God had often chosen unlikely people to do important things. Moses and Miriam and Aaron, Amos, David the Shepherd, Hannah, Abraham and Sarah, Tamar and a host of others. No doubt he heard these stories from the people of his hometown. It was in his hometown and from his parents that he heard the stories of liberation and began to cultivate his imagination for the liberation of his own people.

This implies, rather strongly, that God’s Spirit is capable of calling the people of Nazareth to unlikely adventures of faith. The stories are not just about ancient faithful people, but suggest how God is working in our own lives. Jesus is sad because the people in his own town feel that God cannot work in their own life.

This is why he is amazed at their unbelief – not only their unbelief in the power of God but their unbelief in themselves to respond to that power.

I’ll bet the disciples felt that way too.

I’ll bet we feel that way too.

I know I do.

It is interesting that after the disempowered and disheartened response of his own hometown that Jesus sends the disciples out. They are sent two by two and with little resources except the hospitality of the Palestinian people and something else: The presence and power of God

I wonder how the disciples felt when they had walked over the next hill, leaving Jesus behind. I wonder if they felt small and a bit ridiculous as they entered the next village. I wonder if they knew what to say or if they had to rehearse it over and over again? I wonder if they felt like imposters as they carried Jesus’ message of the inbreaking reign of God?

Faith is a the trust to keep moving, keep trying, keep speaking, keep loving in the midst of the self-doubt and God-doubt.

God plants this faith, like a little disturbing and comforting seed lodged in our hearts.

I think back to the first time I met a gay man. It was in a social work class at Pacific Lutheran University. He was in his late 50’s. A man of humor and courage, he engaged us with grace and kindness. He asked me what I was taught about homosexuality and I told him I was told it was a sin. He asked me how I felt at that point. I told him it was “too close for me to know.”

Laughing kindly, he moved his chair a way a bit. I said, “I didn’t mean you were too close.”

He moved his chair back to its original spot and said he was glad that I was okay with him. That experience began to crack open my view on the whole issue.

I wonder if he knew that day that his courage to meet with us would impact me for the rest of my life? I wonder if he could possibly know how his courage has served as an example to me of the power of social change?

And yet his witness, against odds that were laughingly long, have taken us to the place where marriage is open to all. His witness, along with the thousands of others who marched and came out to family and friends has not been in vain.

The faith of Jesus invites us to be willing to be changed by God’s Spirit working through others.

The faith of Jesus invites us to recognize that the Spirit works through us to change others.

We may not know what impact our participation in God’s way of mutuality may have. We probably won’t know. Faith in God is our willingness to trust the Spirit to continue on our own adventure of faith – faith to keep walking, listening, speaking, loving, changing, with gratitude for those through whom God has changed us.