Sermon from 7.25.15
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.
This text is an uncomfortable one. Maybe, like me, it makes you ask a lot of questions like, “Where is Jesus coming from? Why did he leave?” “Why were the people in the synagogue astounded as the scripture says?” “Why does their attitude seem to suddenly shift from amazement to disbelief?” “Why do they point to his family and professions as negative implications?” Why are prophets rejected in their hometowns and by the people who are close to them?” or, “Why couldn’t Jesus do miracles there?” or even more poignantly, “Why does verse 5 say he could do no power there except heal a few sick people?” There are SO. MANY. QUESTIONS. Many pastors and scholars are themselves asking these very questions. When I felt God leading me to preach on this text, I kept asking myself, “What is the point? What am I supposed to say to your people, God?”
There is an online commentary blog that I sometimes read when I am preparing for a sermon and Rev. Mark Hoffman chose to highlight verses 2-3 and focus on the question, “Why does the crowd’s perception of Jesus so suddenly shift?” He asks:
Did they wonder if Jesus was ‘crazy smart,’ and then decide that he was just crazy? Earlier in Mark 3:21, Jesus’ own family had come to get him because they thought Jesus had lost his mind. In verse 2, the people ask, “Where did this man get all this?” Did they decide, like the scribes in Mark’s first chapter, that Jesus had been sent by some evil source? Was this dynamic shift because of socio-econimic systems in place at the time? Jesus did, after all, live in a time and place where who you were at birth determined who you would be until you died. Is the shift connected to the community’s perception of who Jesus’ family was? After all, to be a carpenter was to be a low-status manual laborer. And he is named here as the son a Mary, a reminder that there were questionable circumstances surrounding Mary’s pregnancy.
In the well-loved paraphrase version of the Bible, The Message, the people ask the question, “Who does this man think he is?!” Maybe some of you have faced those kind of questions when you find yourself doing well. When I got accepted to Princeton, I got a lot of those questions. Who did I think I was to go off to a fancy new place with fancy new people and try to be something more?
And in Mark, this question of who Jesus is is super important! There is this thing that biblical scholars talk a lot about called “The Messianic Secret” which is a fancy way of saying that at every turn, the people in this Gospel are question who Jesus is and where he gets his power, and whenever someone starts to get it right, starts to get that Jesus is the Messiah come to turn things upside down and right the world’s wrongs, Jesus says, “Zip it! Not yet!”
But what about the question of Jesus power here? Why couldn’t Jesus perform miracles? Well, I honestly don’t have the answer. But I do think it’s a question that we should be wrestling with. Getting into the nitty-gritty of Scripture is supposed to leave us a little haunted, leave us unable to sleep at night because we’re torn up with not knowing the answers. Belief isn’t easy. It’s hard and it’s messy. But what do I keep telling you about the mess? Jesus reaches down into the dirty, messy, grimy parts of our lives, takes our hands, and helps us to stand again. Right?
So what is the text doing here that is going to enable Jesus to help us stand? Maybe for some of you today, God is just trying to whet your appetite, to make you so hungry for answers that you dig into your Bibles with fervor. Maybe God is asking us to look for the point of it all. Maybe some of you are like 13 year old me, searching for the reason that God keeps waking you up day after day.
Personally, I think God is asking me to wrestle with this question of what a “deed of power” is. What does the text mean by that? Is a deed of power a miracle as so many people think it is? If so, what are the miracles Jesus cannot do? Because the scriptures say that Jesus is able to heal some people. Were those people who were exceptions to the rule? Were there a few within the community who did accept Jesus?
Maybe it’s our understanding of which things that Jesus is doing that qualify as miracles that have to rethink in this story. Maybe the miracle isn’t Jesus’ healing power, although that is certainly a miracle. Maybe what we understand as Jesus’ healing power is what we have to rethink. Maybe it isn’t making the blind man see again that is the real miracle. Maybe it isn’t curing people of leaprosy and possession. Maybe, what the real healing power of Jesus is, is his ability to lift us out of our circumstances, to lift us out of what our communities and our societies and cultures expect of us. Maybe Jesus’s real miracle is his ability to raise us above all of that, and to give us new hope and new visions for the future. Maybe’s Jesus’s real healing power is the way that he brings us out of brokenness and back into relationships with one another and with God.
Jesus says that all of the law of the Old Testament can be boiled down to two things: 1) Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind. And 2) Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Jesus also says that he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.
Maybe the real miracle that Jesus brings into each of our lives when he performs deeds of power is the way he enables us to rejoin our communities, to reform healthy and vibrant and loving relationships with God and with each other. When Christ healed the demoniac, Christ sent the newly healed man back home, back to the people who rejected him, who tried to tie him down with chains and with shakles, and who banished him to live among the tombs. Christ sent sent the healed man back home and empowered him to love his neighbor as himself as an extension of the loving relationship that Christ built with him.
Maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s the real deed of power that the people of Jesus’ hometown missed out on. Whether it is because of fear or perception or the way that Jesus sometimes makes us uncomfortable, when we reject Jesus, we miss out on healthy and vibrant and truly loving relationships with God and with each other. Because Jesus is the only person who has ever died for me. Jesus is the only person in all of history that was able to take on the sin of all of history and wash it away.
Friends, the Good News of the Gospel is this: Jesus loves you so much, that he doesn’t care who you think you are, or who your community thinks you are, because Jesus knows that you are a child of God and you were worth getting messy for. You are worthy of healthy and vibrant and loving relationships with God and with each other. So don’t be afraid. Listen for when Jesus knocks at the door to your heart. Be ready for Jesus to pull you up and help you stand, because he can and will and he already is. Amen.
 Paraphrase of Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman’s article, “Commentary on Mark 6:1-13,” from Workingpreacher.org. Found on July 24, 2015.