Gospel According to Mark 6:1-6
July 5, 2015
The Rev’d. Gretchen S. Grimshaw
Episcopal Parish of St. Paul, Newton Highlands, MA
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 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! 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. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching.
Jesus came to his hometown. But he could do no deed of power there. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Good morning. This morning’s reading from Mark’s Gospel seems to be appropriately timed for this 4th of July weekend, a time when we celebrate the founding of our national home. Because this story is the one and only place in our scripture when we see Jesus at home. This morning’s reading is recounted in all four of our Holy Gospels, albeit very differently – in Luke’s Gospel Jesus is not only rejected, but the crowd threatens to throw him off the side of a cliff! But it seems to be an important part of the Jesus story, this description of his return home…. Any story that appears in all four of our accounts is well worth our full and focused attention.
In this passage we are reminded that Jesus has a family with a mother and many siblings, and he is known, in the flesh, by the entire town of people who raised him, who know him, and to whom he has come to preach. In fact, they have likely invited him. Which is why the scripture sounds so strange: Jesus 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! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and sibling of many? Clearly Jesus’ hometown neighbors expected something…..else. Clearly they expected someone not as wise. Not as powerful. Not as different from them and their children. Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary? They knew very well who’s son this was. But it was almost as if to say, how did her son get to be such a big deal, eh?! This is the only time in this Gospel, the Gospel without a birth narrative, when Jesus is identified as the son of Mary rather than the Son of God.
The whole content and context of this passage feels very disconcerting. Because it comes after Jesus is fairly firmly established as a healer and a teacher and a…..well, doer of many miracles. His reputation is well known. He has healed Simon Peter’s Mother-in-Law in the presence of said disciples, he has healed a paralytic in the presence of a host of chief priests and scribes. Also, he has calmed a raging sea, exorcised a demon from a grateful citizen of Gerasene (albeit into some not so grateful pigs) , and last week he healed a hemorrhaging woman in the midst of a raucous crowd in the center of the public square and topped off his already incredible curriculum vita off with the raising of Jarius’ daughter from the dead.
By the time Jesus returns to his childhood home in Mark’s Gospel, he has already thoroughly established his credentials as an undisputed worker of all manner of miracles. His ministry is humming along at a pretty good clip. He is likely feeling fairly sure of himself, as we would if we returned to a high school reunion after proving ourselves to be more than successful in our chosen field! And then bam! All of a sudden, in the place where one would expect the most support and embrace for one’s personal achievements – Jesus runs smack dab into a brick wall of unbelief. A wall that says, no matter what you have done or accomplished, you have no credentials here. A wall that provides the perfect opportunity to ditch the old definitions of hometown and biological family as places where we can count on finding shelter and nourishment and care.
And so Jesus redefines the notion of home. He tells his followers that he, and they who choose to follow him, have a new home, a home that is defined not by traditional means, not by their relationship to their historical roots, but by their love and service to their steadfastly faithful God. And so the upshot of Jesus’ teaching in today’s reading is that our true “home” is where ever God is. It’s not a startlingly surprising revelation; a Gospel version of home is where the heart is. And so this morning’s reading says that Jesus is homeless in all of the human constructions of this world…..he is not home in any given place; not in a house, not in a village, not even in the synagogue. He has no permanent roof over his head, no hometown ground beneath his feet. He is homeless on this earth. Yes, but this is not really news.
And, says this morning’s reading, Jesus is neither home with his biological family or his community of origin. He is not at home with his mother, or his siblings, or his childhood friends, or his fellow Nazarenes. In the end, it is clear that Jesus belongs to no one but God. And that’s not so startling either. But what does seem startling, is that he is not only not at home, but abjectly rejected by his family. Rejected by. …which is a lot different than “not at home with.” That Jesus, the Son of God from the get-go, the most favored by the Most High would be rejected by…not those who do not yet know of his heavenly charms, but by those who know him best…..well, we who have ears might want to listen!
Because Jesus is not the only one who has ever been rejected by those who are called family; by the place that is called home. I would venture to say that the LGBT community knows all too well what Jesus is going through as this home base summarily rejects their son for simply being who he is and was born to be. So the first surprising piece of this morning’s reading is that Jesus is rejected by those who have known and loved him, almost as a social deviant.
The second surprising thing about his reading is that such rejection renders Jesus, for all intents and purposes, impotent, with respect to his divine power. And he could do no deed of power there. Wow! Jesus had no power on his “home” turf. How bazaar! Because rejection did not seem to disable our Savior in the wider world. Folks rejected Jesus all the time; scribes and Pharisees entire crowds of fearful folks. Jesus was used to being rejected. But not by his family. That brand of rejection apparently had a very different potency.
And finally, and perhaps the most startling part of this morning’s reading is that Jesus is shocked by the whole situation; he is utterly surprised by the familiar experience of rejection when it comes from his community. As it turns out, he is NOT a shoe in for homecoming king. And he was amazed at their unbelief; this is an incredible missing of the mark on Jesus’ part, don’t you think? Because again, Jesus was used to dealing with unbelief. And so the fact that he was amazed at….any unbelief is very……confounding. Unbelief is to Jesus as heart trouble is to a cardiologist. Right? Unbelief is Jesus’ stock and trade…..so how could such a run-of-the-mill response be so shocking?
And the word used to describe Jesus’ reaction to the unbelief is, in the Greek, literally: shocked. This is the only time in this Gospel when this word is used to describe Jesus. In every other instance it is used to describe the reaction of the crowd to Jesus’ own power. Almost every time Jesus flashes a miracle the masses are shocked. But here, and only here, Jesus is shocked. And it is a bit surprising. The Holy One of God who knows the ways of and the ways to God is himself shocked. The one who knows in advance that one of his disciples will betray him and that one will deny him three times is shocked at…anything?! It is not altogether clear whether Jesus is shocked simply by the unbelief of his clan, or by the fact that their unbelief has derailed him….has sapped his authority as a prophet and his identity as a healer. It is interesting to note that the Gospel of Matthew deletes this reference to Jesus’ seemingly diminished power and dignity. Nevertheless, the level of Jesus’ own surprise, affirms his humanity and offers us a connection with our Savior that feels nothing short of totally authentic.
The lesson, I think, is one that we know in our hearts, but I think we sometimes forget in our daily dealings with people and politics and power. I have done quite a bit of ministry with young people over the years, and one of the things that is always evident, among all age groups of young people, is the relationship between personal power and interpersonal belief. That is, the capacity of kids to live into their God given gifts increases exponentially when they feet that they are “believed in.”
This is the unsung part of the power of the Supreme Court decision last week that effectively legalized equal marriage on a national level. And too, the resolutions that just passed at our Episcopal Church‘s General Convention this very week in Salt Lake City! It was my first time at General Convention, and I picked a doozy as a starter. Among several fabulous groundbreaking shifts in our national policy, I watched the House of Bishops debate and then pass the legislation to accept three marriage liturgies appropriate for all genders on a trial basis, and a change in the marriage canon to eliminate all gendered language, which effectively opens marriage to all couples. And after a long and arduous, and I must say shocking debate, the Bishops finally passed the resolutions by a margin of five to one. And the bills were off to the House of Deputies, a body of both lay and clergy representatives from every diocese in the church who also debated hotly and heavily on the matter for several hours. And in the end, it was sort of like that old joke of the guy who goes in to the café and asks for a coffee with no cream. And the waitress says, I’m sorry sir, we are out of cream, you will have to have your coffee with no milk…….which is to say, after a very different sort of debate, the result was the same in the House of Deputies as in the House of Bishops, the legislation passed by an equally overwhelming margin.
And what we in the LGBT community have gained by both the Supreme Court decision and the Episcopal resolutions is not just equal rights……it is an affirmation of our belonging, a affirmation that we are welcomed home in this nation and in this church; and like Jesus promises in this morning’s reading, it is a new kind of home. And this is the part that I think is underplayed, under emphasized, under reported with respect to these seismic shifts in our public policy. It is the part that the remaining descenters do not want to entertain or admit. The part that came when the last vote at Convention came in; when the vote of the House of Deputies was flashed up on the big screen in the immense convention hall; the vote that finally allowed me the same acceptance as has always been allowed to my heterosexual brothers and sisters; the the blessing of the whole church. And I was so surprised, shocked really, to feel an unexpected stream of tears on my own cheeks. I live in a state that has allowed equal marriage for 10 years. I celebrate in a diocese that has allowed equal marriage for almost 5 years. I have married dozens of same sex couples and am married myself. And still, the affirmation of me and my LGBT cohort by the whole church, unequivocally, was a stunning surprise, and an insane gift of existential grace.
Don’t get me wrong, it is so important that we all have access to the rights and privileges that marriage affords. Financial, social, political, etc. But equally important, maybe even more important for the life and health of the spirit, is the grace that comes when the pall of rejection by one’s own people, is lifted. I listened to a handful of bishops and then a handful of lay and clerical deputies speak against this resolution in words that are more than familiar to me. “We love all of God’s children, but we hate the sin.” But I hear those words as: we love you, we just hate it when you breathe….because breathing is no more voluntary than is my sexual orientation. And so when the bishops voted 129 to 26 and the house of deputies voted 726 to 53……even we who are already married in this commonwealth and in this church, are finally home.
Except to the extent that we are all children of God, I think home is much less about who we are, than it is about the way we treat each other. And this, I think, was Jesus’ message in this morning’s Gospel.
And I for one, after a week away, must say it feels so good to be home!
© July 2015, The Rev’d Gretchen Sanders Grimshaw