Reading: Mark 6:1-1 (New International Version)
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
This story should be read in conjunction with the earlier episode in Mark 3 where Jesus is rejected. In Mark 6, Jesus is speaking in his hometown, Nazareth, in a synagogue, a place where he should feel safe and secure. In Mark 5, he raised Jairus’ daughter. He was able to do the most amazing miracles, even raising people from the dead, no wonder crowds surrounded him. In Nazareth, he was preaching to people he knew, so thought it would be a good audience. But because they knew him, they did not believe the things he said. To them, he was only a carpenter, a local boy. They were prejudiced against seeing the truth.
I wonder what blinds us from seeing the true person. Is it because we label them, and that we have our own prejudices? Prophets were workers for God, and here, Jesus is rejected in his own home town. How do we cope with rejection? Does it stop us? Should Jesus have said, “well as I've been rejected, I'm not going to go on”? Or did it not stop him, but just continue with such self-confidence knowing that his ministry was so important?
It is interesting that the lack of miracles coincides with the idea of Nazareth having no faith. This means that faith and miracles must in some way be connected. In chapter seven, Jesus sends the apostles out in pairs, and not just in order to drive out evil spirits and heal sick people. He sent them out with very little: no extra shoes, no money, just a stick, meaning they had to be reliant upon the people they met. Their trust in God would have been enhanced. They would have had some bad experiences, no doubt they faced rejection, but also some good experiences. Some people would have accepted them, allowing them to perform healings and exorcisms. So, the disciples learned to trust in God with their meagre list of resources.
The apostles became vulnerable and in many ways, this vulnerability meant that hospitality was forthcoming. Perhaps if they had gone out showing their wealth and expensive clothes, their message would have been overshadowed, but because they went with very little, the only thing to focus on was the message: repent from your sins; Jesus can forgive sins; there is a new way for salvation.
The great thing about this story is Jesus’ humanity. Here we have Jesus, the human Jesus, who has a hometown, a place where he was able to lay his roots, a place where he was a carpenter. Interestingly, in this version, Jesus was the carpenter rather than the son of a carpenter. The people Mark wrote about saw him as a workman, but he is not appreciated or accepted. This is the God of the universe being rejected. They took offence at him. How could the next-door neighbour be the Son of God, especially as they have seen him grow up? His brothers and sisters are mentioned, but not Joseph, the father, suggesting, as I read in a commentary, the people thought Jesus was illegitimate.
What makes this story important to me is this rejection by the family, both in Mark 3 and in Mark 6, which shows that when Jesus was alive, his family did not really understand him. Yet, after the resurrection, they did. We have two references, one in Acts 1:13-14 and one in Galatians 1:19, where the brothers of Jesus became prominent in the new Christianity. So, after the resurrection, they must have been one of the 500 who saw Jesus’ transformation. One brother, Jude, writes a letter, which becomes one of the 27 books in the New Testament. Another brother, James, becomes head of the church in Jerusalem. So, these brothers are prominent in the new Christianity, but they had previously rejected him. In Mark 3, they called him crazy, that he was beside himself. So, we have this wonderful story where these brothers did not believe, but in Acts and Galatians, their attitudes changed and they did believe in Jesus.
The other thing to note is, if we do not understand somebody, we will tend to demonise them. So, Jesus was derided because he was a carpenter, and people could not see beyond that label to the bigger picture. This story is true because it is quite embarrassing. If you were trying to create a superhero, you would not let him be rejected by his family. You would not have these vulnerabilities. Yet, somehow, his power to heal was limited to the amount of faith the person had. This embarrassment tends to suggest that it is true. It is difficult because I like my superheroes to be flawless. I do not like them to have weaknesses, but here we have the Son of God, with weaknesses. Fully divine, fully human, but within that humanity, he cannot heal everybody.
Another thing to mention is Jesus’s mother, Mary, and perpetual virginity. I have read that within the Roman Catholic Church, and within Islam, Mary could not have any more children, because she was a perpetual virgin. So where do these brothers and sisters come from? Within the Protestant Church, we believe that they were Mary’s because she was married to Joseph, but the Roman Catholics and Muslims say that they must have been from Joseph’s previous relationship. In this case, Jesus’ family are step-brothers. They still rejected Jesus, but still transformed after the resurrection.
The reading is also mentioned in both Matthew 13 and Luke 4. There are slight changes within the narrative, but because it is in the three Synoptics, it makes you believe that it is a true story. We can learn a lot of truth from this passage. We learn that we demonise those that we do not understand.
It also gives us some comfort in knowing that, when we try to preach and express our testimonies, and our words fall on ears that do not really want to hear the message, that the same thing happened to Jesus. The same thing happened to the apostles, the early disciples. So, it gives us some hope that, if even Jesus can not get his message across, then we are in good company when we fail. Of course, some people do not want to accept the truth because it is very inconvenient. It is costly to follow Jesus, his ways, values and morals. A costly suggestion in Acts is that we give our possessions to the poor, but, of course, Jesus was not against people having possessions. In Acts, there are lots of people, for example, Lydia, who were able to create wealth and use the wealth in order to help the disciples. So, Jesus is not against the acquisition of wealth, he is suggesting how we use it and questioning our motives. If we can use it for the furtherance of the kingdom, then that is okay.
It is worth looking back at Mark 3:20-35, where Jesus heals on the Sabbath. The scribes who come to test Jesus cannot say that the miracles did not happen. Instead, they say Jesus must be possessed by the devil or working for the devil. So, Jesus’ Galilean ministry of healing, exorcisms, teaching, miracles and radical thinking, which upset people’s traditional values, must have happened otherwise the scribes would have claimed the miracles did not happen and offer proof. So, when people argue that Jesus did not exist, we have this wonderful story where we can reveal Jesus did, in fact, exist.
When people say there is no evidence of Jesus existing, they forget to look at the evidence that is outside the Bible. If we look at that, we appreciate that the basic storyline is confirmed by non-Christian sources, such as Josephus the Jewish historian, Tacitus, Suetonius, Aeneas, Pliny the Younger, Trojan, and the Greek writer Lucien. All of these writers, outside the Bible, confirm the basic storyline of Jesus. Therefore, we do not have to rely upon the Bible in order to know that Jesus existed. So, this story in Mark 3 and Mark 6, embarrassing as it is, proves to me that miracles did happen. So we should not be embarrassed. It proves to me that Jesus was a real person. He was struggling, his family was embarrassed by him. But Jesus does not panic, he responds calmly. He makes us think about our values and suggests that perhaps the family we are born into is not the family we necessarily deserve. It is the people who believe that Jesus considers family. Of course, we know that the brothers do respond after the resurrection in the most magnificent way. They move from Jesus being an embarrassment to being the source of their salvation.
The other thing about Jesus is that he is able to forgive sins. This of course is a very radical thought. By whose authority is he able to forgive sins? How dare he forgive somebody’s sins? It is not really Jesus’ place to do that! Yet, he claims that he can forgive sins. The fact that the story of Mark 3 and Mark 6 has the humanity of Jesus coming through, and the truth of Jesus coming through, makes this a real person. We remember that in John 6:66, many disciples turned back and could no longer follow him, because Jesus’ message is a hard message. Even Jesus could not convert everybody. But in John 6:68, Peter says, “You have the words of eternal life”, and that is vital. It is important to know the reason why we follow Jesus, and follow this costly message, and follow the priorities, which are sometimes different to society. It is because Jesus has the words of eternal life.
Jesus works through people’s weaknesses. I was reminded of the Confederate Prayer.
The American Civil War was the most dreadful of civil wars, affecting some 31 million people. In the spring of 1864, a battle exploded on the outskirts of Richmond. After the fighting ended, armies marched off to grapple elsewhere. Some soldiers moved onto the battlefield to bury the dead. One party came upon the Confederate soldier. He lay amid the dead in the front of the battle line. Just before burying him on the field, the gravediggers made the usual search of the body, inside the shirt pocket was a sheet of paper on it. This common soldier, a day or so earlier, had scrawled some thoughts. They were a statement of what life meant to him. As such, the words are an everlasting testimonial to one simple human being.
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly how to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for – but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.
This sermon was first preached at Gants Hill URC on 4th July 2021 by the Reverend Martin Wheadon
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon