Have you heard about the amazing things he’s done?”
The reaction of Jesus’ hometown folks starts out similar to the reaction of the disciples in the story we read two weeks ago about Jesus calming the storm at sea.
When they saw Jesus command the wind, the disciples asked,
“Who is this?”
When they hear Jesus teach in the synagogue,
the people of Nazareth are amazed at what they are hearing, and they ask,
“Where does this man get all this?”
They are astonished also by the “deeds of power” they have seen or heard about.
But, all too quickly, they move to squelch their astonishment with scorn.
“Wait a minute. That’s Jesus. You know, Mary’s son –
the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon.
Is that the Jesus everyone has been talking about?
He’s just a builder. He’s no one special.”
And with that attitude, they close themselves off to seeing or hearing
who Jesus really is.
They do not listen to him.
They do not seek his help.
They limit him by refusing to see who he has become and what he can do.
The story doesn’t just say his hometown folks don’t believe.
Jesus defies their expectations, steps out of his place in the social order,
and they are scandalized.
No mere builder teaches in the synagogue!
Who is he to make claims about God?
Biblical scholar and prolific author John Dominic Crossan writes in Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography that the system of social class and honor in Galillean society was a zero-sum system.
If the people gave Jesus respect and honor greater than his due as a poor builder,
someone else in the community loses that honor.
They just can’t have it.
But there is a deeper issue at play here than “familiarity breeds contempt,”
or even social prejudice.
At the center of this text is the scandal of the incarnation.
If God – the God who created heaven and earth and breathes life into all living things
– if God decided to become human – why this human?
This Jesus was not the messiah everyone awaited –
not a warrior to free them from Rome,
not a priest or learned scholar. For heaven’s sake, he ‘s poor.
Crossan quotes Celsus, a pagan philosopher who wrote an attack on Christianity called “True Doctrine” in about 180 C.E. The great offense of this faith was not the claim that a human could be born of a virgin or that a human could be divine – but the idea that it could happen to a member of the lower class. In Crossan’s words: “Class snobbery is, in fact, very close to the root of Celsus’s objection to Christianity.”
Class snobbery is also a factor when the Galileans look at the company Jesus keeps.
Fishermen? Tax collectors?
Really, Jesus – that’s who you hang out with?
Yes, and not only hang out with, but send out –
to carry God’s mission into the world.
Jesus has called a number of people to follow him,
and he has crowds who follow him around –
but 12 he has chosen as his disciples.
It is not clear why he chooses this twelve.
The last time we heard Jesus address this crew in Mark’s gospel he was saying,
“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
But they have been with him on his journey.
They have listened to his parables and teachings.
They have witnessed him casting out demons and doing amazing miracles of healing.
Now he sends them to do the same –
to teach and cast out demons and heal in God’s name.
This sort of takes the whole Incarnation idea one step further.
If Jesus was here today, would he be a bishop?
A bank president? A professional athlete?
No. Quite possibly he would be the nice guy bagging groceries at Albertsons.
Or one of those young people taking a break before college, traveling around by bike and rarely seeing a shower.
And who does Jesus send?
Not just seminary professors and Bible scholars and priests.
In fact, I think we church professionals and academics have it easy.
I mean, everyone expects me to talk about God - it’s my job!
But the ones chosen for mission in the world – that’s you, my friends.
You are called here to St Michael’s to be fed at the table, encouraged by the word –
and then go out to share the good news and heal the sick and feed the poor.
Because one thing this passage makes very clear is that
following Jesus carries some responsibility.
How we respond to Jesus makes a difference.
When Jesus meets the contempt and unbelief of the people in Nazareth,
his mighty works are limited.
The story says that “He could do no deed of power there, except that he laid hands on a few sick people and cured them. He was amazed at their unbelief.”
Jim Callahan wrote in a Christian Century article,
“Strange how hardened hearts can cut even God off at the pass.”
How we respond to Jesus has a great deal to do with how we live in the world –
whether we accept the grace and comfort the Word made flesh can offer –
whether we take on the role of discipleship in our own lives day by day.
And the wonder of the incarnation doesn’t stop at God becoming flesh in Jesus Christ,
or in God choosing regular folks like you and me to do God’s work.
God is incarnate in the world in so many ways,
and our lives and faith are richer when we respond with open eyes and hearts.
Callahan concludes his article on the scandal of the incarnation:
Yes, his mama was Mary, and he had sisters and brothers with names and faces and backaches. The Gospels proclaim that God was his father, and he proclaimed that God is your father and mother too, and mine, and everyone’s. When we begin to really believe that, when we seek God in the ordinary, daily wash of things and find God in nothing more complicated than each other and in God’s beautiful, dangerous, gorgeous creation, "mighty works" begin to happen. Works of mercy and compassion. Works of healing and commiseration. Works of forgiveness and understanding and of great laughter. Frederick Buechner was right, I believe, in asserting that miracles do not evoke faith so much as faith evokes miracles.
What that poor crowd of Nazarenes was cutting off at the pass had to do not only with God, but with their neighbors and spouses and children, and whatever they knew of community. It was probably a world where anyone who cooked was just a cook, any tradesman just a competitor, any lawyer just a crook. Anyone’s wife was just a woman, anyone’s daughter was a nuisance. It was a bleak world, with no wonder, no enticing mystery, no great expectations and precious little hope. They seem to have suffered not only a loss of nerve (which may be another word for faith) but also a loss of awareness -- of consciousness.
Maybe that was the case in Nazareth. Maybe most of the time that’s the case with us too, Maybe we need to go back to our lessons from safety patrol: Stop, look and listen! Know a prophet when you see one; learn the wondrous truth when you hear it. Maybe that’s the way we get to let God cut us off at the pass and then lead us into the eternal life, which begins in the here and now, of realizing the wonder we see in each other’s faces.
Who is this?
Our challenge is to answer that question more and more with the understanding
that we are seeing Jesus, at work in the world all around us.
And our response is to know the wonder of God’s love for the world –
for us and for all people and for all creation –
that God became incarnate and still becomes incarnate
in the wonderful, wild beauty of this life.
Thanks be to God.