Blogging Towards Sunday, January 8th
We return to the Gospel of Mark after a Christmas hiatus to a challenge of Jesus’ identity and legitimacy. The texts begins with several linguistic cues that things are going to change. Whenever there is a geographical switch in the gospels, that’s to say a movement from one place to another, it’s not just topography that’s in view.
Jesus leaves the places where the crowd gathered around him on the lakeshore (5:21) – sacred place where he encountered the anonymous bleeding woman and the dying daughter of the notable Jairus. He leaves this place where many who did not know him encountered his miraculous and magnanimous presence, which not only turned their heads but quite possibly transformed their lives. He leaves there to return home: to the places of his fathers, ancestors – “his people” – those that know him the best, or think that they do.
Jesus’ teaching (just like others elsewhere see 1:22; 1:45 45 & 2:12). Yet then there perspective changes. They remember him: who his family is, maybe about his bizarre birth, weird paternal claims, and maybe occasional bizarre occurrences. Your hometown is often a place that feels like “home” where everybody knows your name….as the “Cheers” theme song said. AND it’s also a place where everybody knows your business and thinks that they know your place.
Ancient Palestine, including Nazareth, was a society based first and foremost upon patriarchal family relationships. Social roles and relationships were based upon who you belonged to: your family, your village, your tribe. What’s curious is that Jesus returns to his hometown not with his family, but with his posse, a new community of his disciples (who he has already called his family in Mark 3:31-35). Jesus has challenged the social norms by redefining family from a genetic definition to the inclusion of anyone and everyone who does the will
of God or puts the teachings of Jesus into practice.
Is it any wonder then that things quickly go sour. After their initial amazement his former neighbors, like the lady who ran the corner store, or that crossing-guard, or the old guy down the block (to use modern American terms), respond by saying “Hey! Wait a minute. We know this guy.” And it’s not just roses. He’s identified as Mary’s son, not Joseph’s. This is curious in patriarchal, male-based society. Are they referring to the virgin birth? Or is it a back-handed slight, an easily made slur against Jesus’ legitimacy?
They can’t get past who Jesus is, or maybe what Jesus has said. He’s just the carpenter’s son. What would he know about God and life? All of his siblings are named (Jesus alone isn’t named after someone in the Bible). How is Jesus compared to them? Is he the black sheep, overlooked for the 99?
Jesus quotes what is most likely a common saying, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” Curiously it’s only here in Mark’s retelling of the event (6:4) that this list include “by his own family or relatives, compare it to Matthew 13:37 and John 4:44. Is this pericope (gospel section) saying that a prophet is defined not by being a seer who can see God’s plans in and for the future, but rather a prophet is defined more by rejection? Can you have a popular prophet that everyone loves and adores?
Plutarch (a famous Roman) wrote in 604 CE “You would find that the most sensible and wisest people are little cared for in their hometowns”. It’s nearly the same statement. What is it about our hometowns, or our home turfs that impeded us from often seeing ourselves – and each other – clearly?
The people not only doubt him, they take offense at him (v. 5). In the Greek they’re “scandalized” by him – they fall away from faith because of what they see in or around him. The people in the town – his town – react to Jesus in the same way as the scribes and religious leaders in 3:20-30. They recognize that he can do amazing miraculous works of power. But they won’t ascribe that to God’s power in or through Jesus. Their faith is like that of the seed planted in the rocky places Mark 4:17. Why is that? Was Jesus actually a loser, a nothing special guy, who Mark and the other gospel writers made out to be someone extraordinary through good literary editing? Or were they blind to who Jesus was and what he was about?
Jesus moves on. He doesn’t remain captive to their limited and twisted expectations of him. He arrives home where his neighbors are amazed at him (6:2) and he leaves home amazed at their lack of faith (6:6). He turns to his new family, his new “hometown” composed of those on the road of faith, seeking to do God’s will: the disciples. And he sends them out in his name with his authority. Jesus doesn’t trap them in particular roles or limitations, but empower and liberates them to be partners, collaborators with him in his ministry.
How are we often blinded to what God is doing around us, much like those folks in Nazareth were blinded to what God was doing in Jesus?
How do our expectations and history with each other, put blinders on our eyes when we come together, work together, or dream together?
How do we need – do you need – to be freed from such expectations?
Who are the prophets in our world today? Why do we listen to them? When do we not listen to them?
How is God in Christ calling us to be a prophetic witness in Oakland and Berkeley, pointing to what God wants for our world, societies, cities, lives and communities?