Last Sunday I talked a bit about the connection between the lectionary texts in Mark’s Gospel. This week, it seems that the two sections of the text are not connected at all. In fact, some commentators suggest that pastors choose one or the other. I think that the texts are related and that they hang together in the same way that the texts I talked about last week hang together.
Let’s begin with the first text. Jesus comes home. The people are astounded. But not in a good way. Who is this person? He is the carpenter; he is the son of Mary. These are not just questions about the ordinariness with which they regard Jesus. A carpenter, a builder, someone who worked with his hands was of the lower class. He was someone the learned people, the merchants, the landowners, the rabbis, the religious leaders would look down on..
Even those of the same class might have wondered, who did Jesus think he is? He’s one of us and now, he thinks he’s better than we are. I’ve heard it said about different groups: they are like crabs in a barrel—as one climbs up, the others reach up to pull it down.
There’s even more reason to look down on Jesus. The text says the people called him the “son of Mary.” We are so used to hearing that that we don’t think about it. Then, men were called son of their father. By calling him son of Mary, they are drawing attention to the fact that Joseph may not have been his father. Today, illegitimacy is not unusual, but I remember a time when a child was scarred by not having a father. By referring to him as son of Mary, the villagers are calling into question his honor.
So, because of who Jesus is, the people of his hometown refused to believe that he could do any deeds of power or have anything to teach them. It is easy to assume God is not in the ordinary, the usual. I’m reminded of the story of Naaman. Naaman was a commander in the army of the Syraians. He had a skin disease. He could get no help in Syria. His wife’s serving girl told him that in Israel, they could cure this. And so Naaman asked the king of Syria to write the king of Israel asking for help. To make a long story a bit shorter, Naaman went to Elisha the prophet. Elisha sent a messenger who told Naaman to bathe in the River Jordan. The Jordan River is a creek. Nowhere does it deserve the name river. In most places you could wade across it. It’s not the Mississippi. Heck, it’s not even the St. Francis. It’s like the creek that runs through your backyard.
So Naaman was a bit put off. He was expecting to have to do something spectacular or at least arduous. At least to be sent to bathe in a real river. And so he refused. A servant said to him, if Elisha had told you go do something hard, you would have done it, so why don’t you do something easy.
Like Naaman, we expect God to be in the spectacular, the breath-taking, the unusual. Like the people of Jesus’ hometown, we expect God to be glamorous, spectacular, breath-taking, unusual. We don’t expect God in the ordinary.
I’m reading a book called The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. It’s about Ignatian Spirituality. At one point, the author talks about our desire for a connection to God and how we feel that desire. He tells the story about a friend, a “self-described workaholic who hadn’t been to church for many years,” who went to the baptism of a friend’s child. “Suddenly,” he says, “she as overtaken by powerful feelings—mainly the desire for a more peaceful and centered existence. She began to cry, though she didn’t know why. “ He continues, “she told me that she felt an intense feeling of peace as she stood in church and watch the priest pour water over the baby’s head. To me,” he says, “it seemed clear what was happening: she was experiencing at that moment when her defenses were down, God’s desires for her. . . . But, she laughed and dismissed it. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘I guess I was just being emotional.’ “
We dismiss God in our lives, just as the people of Nazareth did. It’s just the ordinary. I’m being emotional. It can’t be God. It’s too easy.
This part of the text ends that Jesus was amazed by their unbelief. This is another story of faith. This time of people who didn’t have the faith to see what God had put before them. Without faith we can’t see God; we can’t see what God is doing. This passage, too, is about faith: how what we assume, what we expect matters. It’s about how we should be open to see God in unexpected places: in the ordinary, in ordinary people, in our everyday lives. Not just in momentous occurences.
I think the second part of the text is also about faith, even though the word doesn’t appear. Remember last week I told you that Jesus had been on the Sea of Galilee with his disciples and a storm had come up. Jesus was sleeping and the disciples woke him up. He calmed the storm and then asked them why they were afraid; didn’t they have any faith? Now we see Jesus sending the disciples out with no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; and only the clothes on their back.
They are to go on a long, dangerous journey with nothing! Can you imagine! I am finally getting to the point where I am beginning to pack lightly. Basically it’s because most of the places I go, I can buy whatever things that are essential that I’ve forgotten. But it’s taken me a while. I still pack medicine, just in case I get sick. I always have extra food for the plane because it would be a tragedy if I should get hungry. My carry-on has hand sanitizer, lotion, a tooth brush and toothpaste, eyedrops. All the stuff I’d absoluetly have to have for an overnight flight. In at least ten flights, I haven’t opened the plastic baggie with these essentials. Yet, I continue to pack them.
My first reaction to Jesus would have been, “are you crazy? We can’t possibly do that. What if no one will take us in? What if my clothes get torn? Do you really expect me to beg from total strangers?” I need all my stuff.
A number of years ago, I went to Nicaragua with two pastors. I hadn’t gone to seminary yet, so I was the layperson. We were going to see whether we could set up a partnership between the presbytery and a group of churches in a remote area of Nicaragua. We stayed in Managua the capital for a couple of days and then flew out to the Atlantic coast. From there we were to travel by jeep up to the Rio Coco, the border between Nicaragua and Hondurous. Our plane was late in arriving at Puerto Cabezas. When we arrived at church headquarters in Puerto Cabezas on the coast in the late afternoon, we were told that they had radioed the folks we were to visit to tell them we weren’t coming. The people at church headquarters had been told the plane had been canceled. Our Nicaraguan leader, Pastor Norman Bent ducked into the church’s food pantry. He came out with a can of pineapple, one of corn and one of beans. That’s all they had he said. Norman continued, “They aren’t expecting us, so there may not be any food for us.” And so we left and drove through the waning light into the night.
We arrived at the village. Everything was dark. There was no electricity. Our jeep’s lights woke everyone, though and they happily came out to greet us. They fed us. They had slaughtered one of their few chickens for us and we feasted on the meal. The pastor’s family vacated their one room house so that we could stay there.
One of the pastors on the trip had reflected on the experience. He talked about how we were like Peter who didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet. Not that Jesus was too good to wash Peter’s feet, but that Peter didn’t want anyone to serve him. To be served is to trust, to give up control. We had trusted to go on in the dark when we weren’t expected. None of us had completely given up control on the trip. Norman had his three cans of food. I had my suitcase full of clothes and medicine. The others also had overflowing suitcases. What we learned was the possibility of trust. That generosity abounded. The experience is one I look back on and say, yes it is possible to step out into the unknown when God calls us to such a thing.
Faith is trust in God. Faith is to give up control and trust in God. Jesus somehow transformed the disciple who earlier had feared for their lives on the Sea of Galilee, those disciples that Jesus had scolded for having no faith and turned them into men willing to leave everything behind: food, extra clothes, money and to depend solely on God and others. To go out and do. The disciples went out and cast out demons and cure those who were ill.
Faith is the openness to believe. To be vulnerable enough to see, to hear, to feel God. Faith is the trust to go out where Jesus calls us. It is both openess and action. To be surprised both by what God is doing and by what God enables us to do. Amen.