The carpenter has come home.
Now, if he had just dropped in to see his mother and siblings, and had done nothing more, maybe all would have been okay. But instead, this audacious, uncredentialed Jesus went to the synagogue and began to teach.
People 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 offence at him.
Did you hear how they referred to him? First they called him a carpenter. That’s understandable, because that’s what he once was. But it sounds like that’s what Jesus’ hometown folks want him to remain. They prefer that their hometown boy, whom they had helped raise and nurture, remain a carpenter, instead of … what – Teacher? Healer? Something even greater?
Next they called him “son of Mary.” Well, it’s true – he is indeed the son of Mary. And to our ears, conditioned as they are by our celebrations of the birth of Jesus, it sounds warm and lovely. But there’s something wrong here. In that culture, a man was usually referred to as the son of his father. The hometown folks don’t say anything about Joseph; they only refer to Mary.
Do you understand what they’re doing? They’re shaming Jesus. It may even be that they’re suggesting that he is an illegitimate child – or, expressed in terms that are now considered crude, that he’s a bastard.
Even so, they are astounded at his methods and his attitude. He teaches with his own authority. He doesn’t appeal to the authority of this rabbi or that master, as was the time-honoured custom. In fact, Jesus spoke as if he were God.
It’s this that the hometown folks just can’t tolerate. Why can’t he just take up his carpentry tools once again, and do something useful?
Jesus came for the sake of faith. He already knows from experience that it’s a hit-and-miss mission. But it looks like he didn’t anticipate this kind of a homecoming. He didn’t anticipate such stubborn resistance from his hometown folks. Things simply aren’t going as well with the in-breaking reign of God as we might have expected them to go.
What’s the remedy? What can Jesus do in the face of such resistance, especially after the profound displays of faith he had seen in the previous town? There it looked like he had finally made a breakthrough in his mission in his native Galilee. But here in his hometown, in the synagogue, on the Sabbath, Jesus comes up against such resistance that he can’t perform the deeds of power that he was otherwise capable of doing over against the overt, blatant forces of evil.
All because the hometown folks don’t want him to minister with divine authority. They don’t want him to act as if his true father were God-in-heaven.
This episode in our gospel reading for today is a key point in Mark’s story of Jesus. It’s a turning point. Up to now, Jesus has been the primary actor, while the disciples have been apprentices who have mostly observed and listened. Now, as St. Mark tells us, “He called the Twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.”
Instead of going out himself, he sends out his apprentices! He instructs them to take just a minimum of provisions and depend upon the welcome they received wherever they visited. And if they didn’t receive a hearing, then they should shake the dust off their feet as a testimony against them.
In short, Jesus commissioned the Twelve to minister just as he ministered. He instructed them to proclaim that all people should repent and believe in the Good News. He also gave them power to cast out demons and heal the sick.
Later, when they return and gather around him to tell of their adventures, their enthusiasm suggests that it was a successful move. And at least initially Jesus celebrates with them. But Jesus’ joy quickly evaporates, for it soon becomes clear that even his own disciples don’t catch on to what he has come for. Even they, the proclaimers, don’t comprehend the nature of his Good News and the faith which he wants people to have, no matter how fully he instructs them and regardless of the mysteries he reveals to them.
So it’s at that point that Jesus starts telling his disciples about his journey to the cross. He tells them that it’s a matter of divine necessity – that his Heavenly Father wills it. It is his destiny for the sake of their freedom. Still they do not comprehend, but I think by this point Jesus knows that hometown folks and his disciples – including us folk here in the 21st-century western world – that all of us will just go on resisting his grace.
What’s required is the cross. What’s required is full and complete repentance, together with the gift of a new life. In other words, what’s required is nothing short of the end of self – the self that inevitably wants to categorize and pigeonhole people – including the Saviour – and thus keep God at bay.
What else will do the trick? What else to do but journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and there confront everything that opposes faith in God, including our own ideas of righteousness?
This is what the shepherd boy, David, soon discovered during his reign as King of Israel. In today’s First Lesson, he is still rising in popularity and power. But as his story unfolds, we will see how weak and helpless he truly is. David will come to the end of his resources as he reaps the crop which he himself has sown. Even so, by God’s Spirit, righteousness will be restored. David will prove his greatness by his faith in God.
The same thing for Saul of Tarsus, or as we know him, St. Paul. He was a man robust in his righteousness and resolute in his mission of persecuting the followers of the Jesus movement … until God brought his endeavour to an end on the road to Damascus. As Paul later put it, God crucified him together with Christ. In fact, by baptism he was buried with Christ. In his weakness, the power of God was revealed and perfected.
For if the cross is what it takes to accomplish God’s purposes, it is so only because of the resurrecting power of God. Jesus is the Lord of life. At the end of self, Jesus grants new self, new identity, new life. By the grace that God invests in his own dear son, God draws near and recreates “wannabe-disciples” as well as “we-know-it-all” hometown folks.
By the gift of forgiveness of sins, God recreates us to live with one another as a new hometown community where we, God’s people …
- greet one another in peace;
- seek mutual well-being;
- respect and honour the strong and the weak alike;
- and by God’s Spirit bring out the best in one another.
God’s life-changing power is evidenced in our utter weakness. Because of God’s redeeming love, we are all changed, transformed by cross-and-open-tomb. Finally, God will reap the harvest that God sows; and through us, God will accomplish redeeming purposes.
And then the hometown folks will greet Jesus of Nazareth as the One who comes in the name of the Lord, the Saviour of the world.
Come, Lord Jesus! Establish a new home among us!