An homecoming…of sorts.

When Jesus comes home for a visit, he does what many of us would do…he goes round the old neighbourhood – he compares the memories of his youth with the realities of the present – and, being Jesus, he goes to synagogue on the Sabbath, and takes his turn teaching.
  It should have been a thrilling, God-honouring time; it was his right (some would say, obligation) to read a lesson and offer a ‘meditation on the word’.
He has been doing just that in other towns (to mixed reviews, of course…).  He has gathered disciples to him – so here is the ‘local boy made good; home to see the folks…and the folks are not impressed.
“Who does he think he is?”  “Isn’t that Mary’s boy?”  The suggestion in Mark’s gospel is that the good people of Nazareth think that Jesus is “too big for his britches” as my grandmother used to say.  They take offence, though it is not clear if they are offended by his teaching, or by his daring to teach!
Where does he get the nerve!
Mark’s gospel reports that Jesus does nothing other than heal a few sick while he is home – because he was “…amazed at their unbelief” – Jesus does not try to convince or coerce them into giving him a chance; he observes that this has happened before.  “A prophet is not without honour, except in their hometown, among family, in their own home.”  Whether Jesus is hurt, or tending towards sarcasm, we will never know – but he does stir up memories of Moses (remarking on the ‘stiff-necked people of God), and Isaiah (among a people of unclean lips), and Ezekiel (they are a rebellious house…) – and then, he and his disciples hit the road again.
He gathers his disciples and sends them out in pairs, with instructions, and with a warning: “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”
Even Jesus recognized that some would not hear – some would refuse to hear – not because the presentation was poor, or the service was dull, but because they will not hear.  Everywhere Jesus went, he encountered doubt, resistance, fear and scorn.  Sure, it is most surprising among those who have known him since childhood, but negative reactions are part and parcel of his ministry, and his advice to the disciples is simple: move on.
Now it is tempting, as a preacher, to take this episode from Jesus’ life personally – as a warning to never try and return “home” as the triumphant servant of God.  It is used by many as a reason NOT to seek call in a congregation close to the home of their youth.  But Jesus next move in the gospel suggests that this is a lesson for the whole church – for all the faithful.  The task of proclamation is not just mine, it is the privilege of all of the Baptized, and it is not easy.  When worship is over, you have other business to tend to – in the work of our lives, proclamation is not always a priority (sometimes it is an impossibility) – but the feeling of worship does go with us; our encounter with God does change us; and that change can be the topic of wonder and concern – of questions or ridicule – just as it was for Jesus and his disciples.
We should not be surprised by the indifference, or even by the hostility, of folks who don’t share our views – who express no need (or no use) for a life of faith.  Such a response is not new.  We are not asked to convince or convert them (that is the work of the Spirit of God) – we are asked only to proclaim the good news – using words, if necessary – Jesus has his friends take nothing, and expect nothing beyond the company of the power of God.  So how can we imagine it will be different for us?
Jesus ‘mission home’ resulted in no “deeds of power” – only a few ordinary cures; a few sick made well.  There was no heroes parade; no testimonial dinner, just offence and dismissal and a lesson for the faithful: that this good news is not always heard as good.  That our message of mercy is sometimes met with suspicion.  So it has always been.  We are encouraged to tell the story all the same; to look, not for signs of acceptance, but signs of God’s presence – signs of grace and peace.  Those signs will not be found where we expect them – not in places of comfort and familiarity for us; our families may scoff, or wonder about us; those who know us best might suggest that we have no right to claim hope (or offer hope) through the promises of God.  but there is a world full of eager, itching ears – people who are watching what we do once worship is ended and we return to our ‘ordinary’ work.  They are our mission.  That is our task, and our joy.  Thanks be to God.  Amen

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