Sermon; 7 Pentecost/Proper 9B; Mark 6:1-13
Mark is a Passion Narrative with an extended beginning. And as we make our way through Mark this year, we are noticing that almost every story we hear will point to the Passion and/or the cross in some way. But I'll be honest, some stories are easier than others to see that connection.
Pharisees plotting to destroy Jesus? Check
Family members attempting to seize and restrain him? Check
A dead calm after Jesus cries out? Check
Life in the midst of death? Most definitely Check
Today, however, is one of those stories that causes me to say, “Almost every story.” Almost is not all, and it may be that this is one of those exceptions. But rather than go another route, I still want to see if I can make a connection between today's story and the Passion. If for no other reason than that those connections play such a big part in Mark's gospel. That, and I can be stubborn at times.
So let's see if I can make this work.
Like last week, we have two stories that make up the gospel passage. The first is Jesus in his home town where, ultimately, he could do not deeds of power. Before we are told about that, however, we are told a few other important things. First, the people questioned each other (and possibly him) about who he is and where he came from. Second, Jesus doesn't ever answer their questions but he makes a veiled statement about who he is. And third, we are told that the people were astounded.
I think this story connects to the Passion in an interesting way. Keep those three things in mind: Jesus is questioned about who he is by the townsfolk, he never answers their questions, and the people were astounded.
During the Passion Jesus is questioned by both the Pharisees and Pilate. Like today he doesn't answer those questions, choosing instead to remain silent. But when he does speak, it's not to answer the questions as much as it is to give statements about who he is.
In Nazareth he said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own home town.” Yes, he was a prophet of God.
To the Pharisees he said, “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power.” Yes, he was from God.
To Pilate he said, “You say that I am a king.” Yes, he is a king, but not the kind of king you think.
The other similarity here is that in this story the people of his home town were astounded at his teachings. In his encounter with Pilate, he was amazed at Jesus' behavior. Astounded and amazed. Two synonyms that, depending on how they are used, can have the same or different connotations. One of those connotations is that the people were shocked and appalled with Jesus, in a “who does he think he is” sort of way. A possible connotation from Pilate is that he had a sense of wonder about Jesus, in a “who is this guy” sort of way. These are not identical words, but they both point to a sense of trying to figure out just who this Jesus is.
And in both of these stories, the encounter in Nazareth and the Passion, Jesus came to his own, and his own knew him not.
The second story today doesn't necessarily point to the Passion and/or cross, as much as it contrasts with Mark's version of the Resurrection.
After the episode in his hometown, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples on a mission to preach, teach, and heal. This first mission goes extremely well. They preached the good news. They cast out demons. They healed those who were sick. In other words, they listened to the words of Christ to go forth.
Contrast this with Mark's version of the Resurrection. Very early on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices to anoint the body. When they entered the tomb they saw a young man dressed in white. He said, “Go and tell his disciples that he is going ahead of you to Galilee.” So they went out and fled, and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.
In Mark's version, an angel tells the women to go and tell the good news. But they don't because they are afraid. In today's gospel, Jesus tells the disciples to go and tell the good news, and they do. Both of those missions could cause a person to say, “No,” out of fear; and in one they do, but it's not because they are women.
As I said in the beginning, this may or may not be the weakest passage to look for connections to the Passion and cross, but the connections are there.
Jesus returning to his hometown only to be rejected. God, in the person of Jesus, coming to live amongst his creation only to be rejected. The people in his hometown wondering just who he thought he was. The Pharisees and Pilate wondering the same thing. Some people choosing to follow his instructions to go and proclaim the good news, and some people refusing to do so out of fear.
As we look at this passage and how it connects to the Passion and cross, we can ask ourselves the same questions we ask of this passage.
Will we receive Jesus, or will we pepper him with questions looking for proof of who he is?
Will we look to work with him in God's mission, or will we simply sit and stare in astounded amazement?
Will we go forth and proclaim the good news, or will we run away in fear, saying nothing to anyone?
This may or may not be the weakest passage to look for connections to the Passion and cross. But the beauty of that is that it is precisely this passage which challenges us to see the Passion and cross in our everyday lives. And in looking for the connections to the Passion and cross in our every day lives, we will get better at seeing Jesus in unexpected places.