Our Mark scripture gives us a brief look into Jesus life,
returning home to Nazareth after the beginning of his ministry.
This glimpse is so brief that it leaves us with more questions
than answers. It's tempting to embellish the story, to create a
back story about how Jesus grew up in this small, intimate
community, helping in the carpenter, (or is it stone-mason?)
shop, watching after his younger brothers, (and sisters?),
learning what all good Jewish boys learn at the synagogue.
Perhaps learning it better or more intensely than others,
perhaps making connections in scripture that others didn't.
You've all heard those stories. I've told those stories. But
what we have is really a brief look into a day in the life
Jesus returned to Nazareth. The author of Mark places
this event after a day in which Jesus had not only cast out
demons, but also healed the woman who had been
hemorrhaging for 12 years, and the daughter of Jarius.
Perhaps he'd come home for a rest - or to continue his
Mark tells us that that he came to his hometown, and his
disciples were with him. When it was the sabbath, that is,
sometime in the next six days, Jesus taught in the synagogue,
and the people were astounded,
. and they took offense at
.. and he could do no deed of power there, except that
he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. Don't
you wish Mark could have reported that the people heard him
and were amazed that this young man who they had seen grow
up, who matured in wisdom and stature before their very eyes,
astounded them with his grasp of scripture, that his teaching
opened their hearts and eyes in new ways, that, as in other
communities, so many people gathered around to hear Jesus
teach that there was no room left in the synagogue and people
spilled out into the streets?
But, somehow, the people of Nazareth were astounded
and offended. They heard with filters over their ears. Their
preconceived notions, or their familiarity kept them from
really listening to the message Jesus had to offer.
The saying goes that familiarity breeds contempt but
my experience is that familiarity gives us permission to quit
listening altogether. How many times have we caught
ourselves so tied up in our concerns of the day that we have
simply nodded and smiled at the concerns and issues spilling
out of our spouse our children at the end of a day? Whether
they want advise or just a listening ear, they deserve our time
and especially our attention.
I have experienced a flavor of what Jesus must have felt.
Some of you know that my younger daughter, Leah, makes her
church home at the Los Altos UMC, which was my church
home until a year ago. I talk to folks there about activities
Leah is involved in. I've known some of these folks for a long
time, some are only a name on paper. Not long ago, I became
re-acquainted with a woman I had worked with on several
projects over the years. The last time we spoke, I was in
seminary and just finishing my internship at Alum Rock UMC.
She asked about seminary and if I was working at a church. I
replied, (with some pride in my voice) that I was the pastor of
the Sunnyhills UMC in Milpitas. Without missing a beat, she
asked who the senior pastor is here at Sunnyhills. That is, who
am I working for? In her world, perhaps I don't fit the mold
of sole pastor. I don't know if that is because I am a woman,
or because if it is because this is my first appointment, or
because she knew me before I heard the call to ministry, or for
some reason I can't fathom. But for whatever reason, I must
be working for someone else.
A young candidate for ministry was discussing the
appointment process with his District Superintendent, and the
DS asked if there were any communities he had a special bias
for or against. There were no guarantees in the process, but
these needs should be known. "Don't send me to New
Canaan," the candidate replied," it's my hometown. As you
know, a prophet is never accepted in his hometown." "Don't
worry," replied the DS, "nobody is going to confuse you with
But back to Jesus and his hometown friends. Mark
relates "they took offense at him." Did the people of his
hometown doubt his credentials, or the veracity of his
message? Listen to the things the village people 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!"
The townspeople didn't criticize Jesus for false
wisdom, or untruth. But they expected a carpenter's son
a message in consonance with the image they already had
of Jesus. And Jesus no longer fit that image. His new
image and message made them uncomfortable, and
they took offense.
This is the crux of our life with Jesus today.
When I was a child, our large church in North Carolina had portraits of Jesus in all the Sunday School classrooms. We children knew what Jesus looked like. Jesus wears white robes, a blue outer robe, has clean, shoulder length light brown hair and blue eyes. The first time many of us saw a portrait of Jesus as a typical
1st century Jew, we were taken aback. It was uncomfortable and we wanted to object. That's not what Jesus looked like.
"The biggest truth this story tells us is that the
community of faith is one of Jesus' toughest audiences,
especially when what he says offends us. We have our own
channels of power clearly marked and we are suspicious of
people who operate outside of them. We believe we know
what is right and what is wrong and we do not welcome
anyone who challenges our beliefs. And yet God is dedicated
to doing just that, because it is the only way to get us to
believe in God more than we believe in our own beliefs. Jesus
was not the only one God sent to shake us up. God is always
sending us people to disturb us--to wake us up, to yank our
chains, to set us on fire--because about the worst thing that can
happen to us, religiously speaking, is for us to hold perfectly
still without changing a thing until we turn into fossils. God is
not behind us, holding us back. God is ahead of us, calling us
forward. God is all around us, speaking to us through the most
unlikely people. Sometimes it is a mysterious stranger, but
more often, I suspect, it is people so familiar to us that we
simply overlook them--our own children and parents, our own
friends and neighbors--all of those hometown prophets who
challenge us and love us and tell us who we are. The closer
they are to us, the less likely we are to hear them, but what a
waste of God's resources, to ignore those who know us best."
Barbara Brown Taylor sermon "Sapping God's Strength" from
Bread of Angels.
It is hard for us to hear new things especially from
Jesus, who we are convinced we know so well. Let Jesus
challenge you to listen not with our ears that already know
the punch lines to the stories, but with ears waiting to be
challenged, to be set on fire, to be awakened to the power of
Jesus message. Jesus is our hometown boy. And he has come
to afflict the comfortable.
Has Jesus made you uncomfortable lately?