6th Sunday after Trinity / Proper 9
Mark 6.1-13 / 2 Corinthians 12.2-10
Mark tells us that Jesus has come home to Nazareth after performing a string of miracles, but if he’s hoping for some rest and comfort among his family, friends and neighbours, he’s going to be disappointed.
He goes to the synagogue on the sabbath and begins to teach, and people are reportedly ‘astounded’.
The word translated in our reading as ‘astounded’ is ‘ekplesso’, which doesn’t mean happy amazement but rather disbelief and scepticism.
And it’s not just what Jesus is saying that upsets them.
Their reference to Jesus as the son of Mary is a roundabout way of calling Jesus illegitimate.
Even if Joseph had died Jesus should still have been called Joseph’s son.
He’s still Jewish because Judaism is passed down through the mother’s line but he’s tainted by shame.
So Jesus is scandalous just by his very existence, and now he’s presuming to stand up in the synagogue with all the good, legitimate Jews, and tell them what to do.
Even worse, he’s just a local handyman, not a proper rabbi at all, so why should they take any notice of him.
They knew him when he was just a kid running around in the dirt with his brothers and sisters, so what makes him so special now?
The end result of all this is that Jesus can do almost nothing in the town, apart from heal a few sick people.
Before this point he has stopped a storm, freed someone from being tormented by evil spirits, healed a woman who’d been ill for years, and brought a young girl back to life.
But now, suddenly, all that power is gone, and Jesus can’t do anything.
Was it to do with the town’s lack of faith?
In his previous miracles Jesus has responded to requests.
He stopped the storm when his disciples woke him and demanded help.
He freed a man from evil when he ran to Jesus and begged for assistance.
He healed a sick woman when she reached out to touch his cloak.
And he helped a dying girl when her father begged that he would come.
But now no-one, apart from a few ill people, has even the faith to ask.
They’re too wrapped up in cynicism and doubt and preconceived ideas about Jesus to see and hear what’s happening right in front of them – the breaking in of God’s kingdom and the start of God doing something new.
And because they don’t believe they won’t ask for help – why would you ask for help from someone you think can’t provide it?
And because they won’t ask Jesus is unable to act.
Now, I’m definitely NOT saying that if we don’t see miracles or get answers to prayers it’s because we don’t have enough faith or haven’t prayed well enough.
Probably all Christians, even ones of great and deep faith, at one point or another, experience times when they pray for a miracle, a change, a healing, for things to be different, and are disappointed.
Paul refers to this when he talks about his mysterious ‘thorn in the flesh’.
He asks God to take it away three times but his request is refused, and I don’t think anyone could accuse Paul of lacking faith.
Sometimes we have to live with things for reasons that are unclear.
But there does seem to be some kind of link between God’s power and our willingness to ask.
There’s a scene in the film Life of Brian where a healed leper complains that Jesus came along and just healed him, when he was doing very nicely begging.
Jesus doesn’t work like that, though – we were created with free will, with the ability and right to decide whether we want anything to do with God or not, and he’s not going to march in and override that.
We may not always get what we ask for but if we don’t ask God won’t force his power on us.
What God can do, though, is find another way.
When Jesus can’t get through to his home town he goes to the surrounding villages and sends out his disciples to spread the message around the area.
And maybe the message filtered back into town and people were able to hear it then, separated a little from the Jesus everyone thought they knew, and maybe not, but the point was that Jesus didn’t spend his time trying to force the kingdom on people.
Instead, he offered it to them, and when it was rejected he accepted their answer and found a new way to get his message out and to bring help to people who needed it.
And if they won’t ask Jesus won’t force his help on them.
Instead he goes elsewhere and finds a new strategy, sending out disciples to spread his message to people who will listen.
This gives us both help and a pattern to follow.
It helps us because it prepares us to face opposition and rejection, even and perhaps especially from those closest to us, because we know that Jesus has faced the same thing.
This means we aren’t alone, and we haven’t necessarily failed.
It may be that the people we’re talking to aren’t ready to hear the message, at least from us, or prepared to be part of God’s kingdom, although that doesn’t mean they won’t ever be.
There’s always hope while God is at work.
And we have a pattern to follow because this story shows us that if something isn’t working we can change our plans, be flexible, find a new way of going about things, maybe involve new people.
The God we follow is living and active and prepared to adapt where things aren’t working, and calls us to be the same.
So let us pray that we will always have the faith to ask for God’s power to help us, the courage to bear it when we don’t get what we ask for, the consolation of knowing that we’re not alone in facing difficulties and rejection as we try to spread God’s kingdom, and the openness to God’s Spirit to go to new places, try new things, and see what God can do.