During this week I’ve had a number of conversations unexpectedly highlighting our choices of what to see and believe and consequently, how we build our identity. The random conversations included: how we might begin a journey of reconciliation with First Nations people while refusing to accept the impact of white privilege and our colonial past; how we speak with people in our community suffering with family and domestic violence and the entrenched violence in our families in Australia and worldwide; how we acknowledge the dreadful impacts of climate change locally and globally as stewards of God’s creation; and, my latest conversation was about the reality of child poverty in Australia.
Now I suspect you could take any one of these issues and have big differences of opinion with your family, neighbours, friends and me, and I haven’t included religion!
So given all these tricky issues, do you continue to talk to people who challenge your worldviews about how the world is ordered around you, for you, by you, as I know it is difficult to put aside our beliefs to listen to someone who questions our identity, culture and life expectations.
Today, Jesus is doing just that. He’s not offering incentives. He’s not going to the rich and famous to get them onside first. He’s not relying on his family to support him. He’s not building a consensus before he starts.
Jesus is challenging all our accepted social expectations as he lives and dies his ministry.
In Mark’s Gospel we have heard Jesus being accused of blaspheming by forgiving sins (2:7); some are suspicious about the company he keeps (2:16), some are scandalized because his disciples don’t fast (2:18), some are outraged by his failure to keep the Sabbath (2:23-24) and many are outraged by Jesus healing on the Sabbath (3:4). He’s accused of using the power of Beelzebul to cast out demons, he is accused of being ‘out of his mind’ (3:21) and he is laughed at and ridiculed for his foolishness (5:40). His family think he is mad and want to restrain him, while the authorities want to arrest him and his home-town neighbours want him run out of town.
In case you haven’t noticed, this is a catalogue of disaster and chaos. I have occasionally wondered if I behaved like this in the parish, would I too be asked to leave? Jesus’ own home synagogue received him initially with surprise, then offense and then dismissal.
Yet there were people around him who still believed he could heal. Jairus and his daughter (5:21a-24a, 35-43), the woman haemorrhaging for twelve years (5:24b-34). Jesus healed others by casting out demons, curing lepers and many who were ill.
So, I wondered where you put yourself in this story about Jesus and his rejection by his hometown, and the lack of support for his foolishness by his family. What was it Jesus said, perhaps sadly, perhaps matter of factly?
Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house. (6:4)
People frequently cannot get beyond the shared assumption and biases arising from their family and their community. The resistance to Jesus is not simply by individuals, but as a community-wide ‘group think’. There is also the social aspect to the rejection of Jesus and his message. Mark’s Gospel tells us the hostility was so great it weakened Jesus’ authority and capacity. Mark reported:
And he could do no deed of power there. (6:5)
Our willingness not to think beyond what is familiar or to reject what might put our way of life at risk frequently overrides and blanks out Jesus’ message, leaving those around us continuing to be abused by the powers and principalities of the world.
Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth is based on Jesus’ fierce determination to be God’s prophet, speaking a painful, if liberating truth, no matter the cost to himself. Little wonder Jesus was an itinerant teacher, preacher and healer. It is hard for a preacher to keep their day job if the preacher stays too long at the prophetic end of the priestly-prophetic spectrum. Solomon Bellows is claimed to have said: ‘Being a prophet is a great job. The problem is finding work.’
However, as I reflect on what Jesus is doing regardless of opposition, I am always amazed at his steady, consistent message and courageous, vulnerable life. He is always focused on those he can help, not on those who would stop or reject him. Mark adds:
…he [Jesus] laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. (6:5)
Confronted by the good news and being given a choice, like us, Jesus was amazed at their unbelief. I continue to be staggered at how hard we work to avoid Jesus’ truth.
Our challenge, as Mark’s Gospel points out, is the decision we make each day. Are we going to trust Jesus and change our lives by following him? In doing so, we are committing ourselves to resist and fight powerful forces and institutional and traditional ways of thinking. In Mark’s Gospel reading (6:1-13), we do not hear the shouts of triumph. We haven’t joined an established winning team giving glory and power on earth. Instead, we experience a gritty, determined realisation reminding us our established habits of mind strongly resist any Gospel message intent on changing the balance of power and potentially disturbing our lives.
So, do we think it is simply coincidence only those on society’s margins healed by Jesus or who have had their demons expelled, are the ones who recognise Jesus and proclaim him? They don’t have so much to ‘lose’.
As I reflect back on my opening comments about my challenging conversations this week which confronted me with our resistance to anything disturbing our comfortable way of life and beliefs:
Do we really insist on thinking First Nations people have only themselves to blame for being stolen as children, and believing white colonists did not steal their land, thinking they deserve to be locked up, to be poor and to be punished for being angry?
Do we prefer to believe family and domestic violence is not endemic in our society or perhaps we shouldn’t talk about it as it is confronting for many?
Do we honestly think God does not expect us to care for God’s creation, including the creatures of the land, the sea and the air including all humanity, whatever we believe about the causes and signs of climate change?
Do we still think children who live in poverty in Australia is really their parents’ fault with a slack welfare system encouraging people to be dole bludgers and lazy?
I’m not sure if any or all of these conversations resonate, as I suspect you too will have had similar discussions with friends, family and neighbours who particularly don’t want to talk about God either.
Mark tells us what happened with Jesus’ family and neighbours. It wasn’t pleasant but Jesus kept going, trusting in God. He said to his disciples:
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 testimony against them. (6:11)
Jesus was not discouraged by their rejection, contempt and scapegoating. He continued his work. So perhaps our question to ourselves is what is our witness to our community? What makes sense to those around us, across racial, economic and social divides to change our lives sufficiently to tell those around us about the good news of Jesus.
Does our witness to the Gospel show us rather to be tourists? Our family needs, and our business practices, tend to be about us, our loved ones and ensuring the institution of the church exists to meet our desires because if we don’t like it we leave and find somewhere that does.
To live as a faith tourist, even at home, is to live in a social bubble wiping out our witness to the Gospel. We are deliciously made by God to live in deep and abiding relations with one another and to order our corporate lives, as a church family, in relation to the common good and with God. We see this life when we choose to be vulnerable to our neighbour and the stranger, knowing the hurts, needs and the worth of the other.
It is not our job to play God, but simply to do what God asks. God then makes use of our efforts.
It is not our role to accept or reject others or to change the Gospel to suit ourselves; and, as importantly, we are not responsible for the response of others.
Finally, the invitation by Jesus to shake the dust off our feet (6:11) is gracious, liberating and enabling. We are called simply to do our best, trusting and leaving the rest to God.
Our calling as disciples is to inclusive, open, faithfulness not success, safety or comfortable lives.
The Lord be with you.