(I wrote this three years ago the last time this Gospel came around, and General Convention was happening. Seems just as true this time, so I made only minor changes. But in case you are wondering, this was NOT my sermon this morning...)
“Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”
This is a popular saying of Jesus. It is found in some form in every Gospel, including the Gospel of Thomas.
It seems a most appropriate subject matter after a July 4th week, for my hunch is that as families gathered, there’s been at least one instance of someone thinking (and hopefully not saying aloud) “who does she think she is.” I’m also willing to bet that the flipside is true: that someone in the family felt disrespected among their friends and neighbors this weekend.
There just might be some instances of this at the “Family Gathering” happening in Indianapolis this week…
So, in this spirit, I’d like to explore the Mark’s version of the story (Mk 6:1-6) in terms of family dynamics.
Now, there’s an inherent danger any time we use a “Jesus conflict” to relate to our human conflicts. The assumption is that if one of us is pegged as “Jesus”, then they must be in the right, and anyone opposing or countering Jesus must be in the wrong.
Let’s resist that temptation for now, and speculate on the story.
Jesus is in his hometown. The Sabbath day arrives, and he started teaching in the temple.
I wonder if this was the intent of the trip, to teach in the synagogue, or was he primarily home visiting family and neighbors? Had the local rabbi been bugging Jesus: when are you coming home and sharing your good news with us? Was teaching the primary reason to return to his hometown, or was this some work on the side while visiting family, or perhaps even an excuse to get out of the house? I can’t tell, but it seems clear that Jesus ultimately places himself in the public domain.
So he does his thing: he astounds people with his insight into the scriptures, with his healing abilities, and with his general wisdom: and then they begin to resent him.
The question is: why do they resent him?
Well, the other people who resented Jesus were those in power: the synagogue leaders and the scribes, who felt threatened by him.
Something similar must have been going on...why would Jesus’ family and neighbors feel threatened by him?
The answer again is a change in dynamics and established order. Jesus’ place in the hometown was clearly perceived: son, brother, neighbor, carpenter.
Jesus comes back very different, and it clearly shows. His perceived place no longer clearly fits, and it produces anxiety. Some may be unnerved that this guy had changed so much, and some might even be resentful that their lives have, in comparison, changed so little.
It’s not surprising that the reaction is strongly negative.
Jesus shares some responsibility in this reaction. Remember, he has been transformed: transfigured by God. In the Gospel of Mark, he left his hometown a carpenter, and came out of the waters of baptism as God’s anointed. He is a changed man.
So he enters his hometown, knowing he’s a very different person then when he left. Jesus can’t, and shouldn't hide who he is. He should not simply play along like everything’s the same. But the situation called for a different approach than “business as usual.” Honest, intimate conversations on who he’d become, and what he now understood, would surely have gone over better then mass teaching in the synagogue. His family and neighbors perceived that Jesus had spiritually changed, and, unsure of where they still connected to him, they reacted negatively.
The results are striking: an inability to carry out the ministry. Jesus is unable to transform anyone’s life.
We have all been on both sides of this spectrum: the one who’s changed, and the one who’s unaware of the change, and upon realization, unsure what the change means to the relationship.
There’s no easy way to handle this: change is difficult, and produces anxiety by its unknown quality. Change is, however, always happening in one way or another, and pretending otherwise does not make it go away.
We are called, like it or not, to honestly explore our changes and new understandings with a gentleness in nature...whether we are the one who’s changed, or we are the one unsure as to what the change means.
Transformation does not absolve us from our relationships to our families and our neighbors. The only way to reconcile these relationships, however, is to be the change that God has called us to be: loving those who are still our family, searching out the quiet moments for the sharing of stories, and boldly proclaiming that God has called us to something new.