Jesus is not recognised
Mark 6: 1 - 12
Jesus had been travelling around the area of the Sea of Galilee. He had being doing some exceptional never been seen before things, changing weather patterns, curing a violent mentally ill man, raising a child from death, to name a few. Now - he went back home to Nazareth where he had been brought up, where he had worked, where his family still lived. People knew him there. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue. He must have been invited to speak or at least had asked to speak and was allowed to do so. He was not an ordained minister in the sense that I am, recognised and authorised by the Church to lead public worship. He was accompanied by his disciples, however, and thus appeared as a Rabbi with a school - a following. The first reaction to his charismatic preaching was wonder and amazement, quickly followed by spiritual jealously. Those present acknowledged his brilliance and the miracles he performed to validate his calling but then looked down at him because he was known to them as a carpenter.
There was class and social snobbery then too. A carpenter is what we would call perhaps a highly skilled joiner - someone who could make things from design to completion. He was really a builder too, since in those days, houses were not made the way they are in our society. Jesus was a craftsman. But he was not a Jerusalem trained minister. Some of those who were critical of him were less educated and less skilled than he was - no surprise there - for there is a kind of inverted snobbery to be found among working people also. The tenor singer Russell Watson tells of how he had worked in a factory. One day, he told his boss he was leaving. “Got another job?” he was asked. “No - I’m going to be a singer”, he replied. “Aye - that’ll be right”, was all the reply he got as he left.
The text says, they took offence at him. We find it hard to understand why they would so this. But it is easy for us after 2000 years of Christianity. No group likes an outsider to come in and show everyone up. Jesus had an edge to him - make no mistake. He didn’t waffle about and he didn’t patronise people with half-truths. He knew there would not be a continuation of Judaism and Christianity. He knew he was doing something new and different. Traditional Jewish worshippers did not like it one bit. Jewish teaching was based like academic work on previous learning added to over the years. Jesus’ teaching was fresh and immediate and in context. So - people used to a particular diet of worship looked down on him just as, for many years, people looked down on Billy Graham because he was not a university educated minister of the Gospel. Even George Carey the former Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, was despised by the London intelligentsia because of his council house childhood and less than wonderful academic achievements. Spitting Image lampooned him by making him small and having him beat a tambourine.
The synagogue attenders that day seem largely to have made some superficial and external judgements about Jesus and they found it impossible to connect Jesus’ teaching and healing with that of a special vocation from God, far less, did they think of him as their Messiah. In Scotland we have that wonderful phrase “Ah kent ‘is faither”. We are skilled at putting people down and keeping people down when we’ve got them there. Even Blackburn’s own local world famous multi-millionairess has her critics still.
Jesus’ succinctly described his reception in a phrase much repeated in Christian, spiritual and secular contexts ever since, 'a prophet without honour' - among his own people. Scotland is harsh towards its sons and daughters too. People recognised in other places in the world for great achievements are hardly known here in Scotland. Even Robert Burns’ cottage was falling into disrepair when commercial sense finally dictated that investment would bring good return in future years and a new visitor centre has been opened. I have seen people humiliated in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. There was a great Professor called Tom Torrance who died in 2007. He had a world-wide Christian reputation as a theologian and pioneer of dialogue between faith and science and was respected by Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians alike. I have seen him get up to speak in the General Assembly and the Moderator stop and ask the Assembly if it wanted to hear from him and rule that the Assembly did not want to hear him speak. And I have watched him go back to his seat and sit down. The Scots most respected are the Scots who have left Scotland to succeed elsewhere. Like Connery and Connolly and Stewart they are feted when, laden with fame and fortune they return from time to time.
If you wanted to paint a false portrait of a great Messiah you would not include the words from mark 6: 5&6. 'He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith'. The key word here is few. Remember the crowds that had thronged to hear him preach in Capernaum - standing room only. Not in Nazareth. Not many bothered to ask for healing or bring their sick family members to him. How extraordinary. Jesus was nonplussed at their attitude. He could do much for them if they asked. They never asked. They were not spiritually seeking people. They did not want to change. They let Jesus go. Faith here means something different from the faith of the woman who was healed by touching Jesus’ cloak tassle. Here it means being spiritually aware and spiritually seeking, wanting to find God and be found by God - being open to God’s intervention and believing in God’s love. Our land is stricken with the attitude of indifference. It is turning into itself as a collection of human beings. This is not a God seeking age although there is much seeking of spurious and fraudulent alternatives, large scale idolatry, much greed and failure in personal relationships.
Was Jesus discouraged? Did he go away and cry in a corner? No. Did he feel hurt? Most likely. Did he let it get him down? No. He galvanised his disciples and sent them out into the whole region, two by two, to preach and convert and heal the sick and bring peace to troubled minds. You have, I am sure, seen pictures of the type of clothing worn in the time of Jesus - in films about Jesus usually shown on TV in Holy Week. Men wore an inner tunic which had a hole for the head and two for the arm. Women wore the same thing slightly modified. The outer cloak was 7 feet x 4.5 feet. Some were stitched. The one piece garment referred to at Jesus’ crucifixion was specially woven. This cloak could be used as a blanket at night. Men and women wore a belt or girdle which could be folded to use as a money belt. The head square or head scarf as we might call it protected from the fierce sun. Sandals were leather, wood or matted grass. In Africa today, sandals are made from tyres as well. The tyre is cut about a foot long and three holes are drilled for a strap. You can follow people by their tyre marks. You can tell whether their sandals are Firestones or Michelins. The wallet was a hand bag or a man bag as they say nowadays. It usually contained food such as bread, raisins and olives which would last the journey’s length. The staff was for protection against wild animals and to help with walking on rough uneven surfaces.
Jesus asked his disciples to go out in God’s providence and take no special provisions with them. They were to depend on the custom of hospitality which was a sacred duty in the middle east. If strangers arrived in a town or village, people did not say “You’ll have had your tea”. They said, “Come and have your tea with us”. Remember the two on the road to Emmaus. They had no hesitation in inviting the stranger whom they did not recognise as the risen Jesus to share their evening meal and probably spend the night there. The disciples were to learn to trust in God for everything they needed daily. In later years they would require that training and that faith to survive as Christians against opposition and persecution. They went out with much to offer and give and were to expect that their ministry would inspire generosity in response. There was an edge to this also. If they were not made welcome they were not to waste their time. They were to leave giving the clearest indication of God’s rejection of them in return. Serious stuff. Over the centuries many Christians have gone out for Jesus in similar ways of trust for life’s necessities. Today in most churches, arrangements are more formalised and we all share in advanced social provision. But those of us who become ministers rely on charity for our livings. It is deeply painful to realise that one’s ministry may not be valued sufficiently.
So although Jesus was scorned in his own home town synagogue, he multiplied his effort through his disciples, spreading the good news, preaching repentance and forgiveness and healing all sorts of illnesses, physical and mental. They sometimes used oil to anoint as an aid to faith. They shook people up and they set people free. They set in motion the spiritual revolution that Christianity brought to the world of humanity - a revolution that is still going on throughout the world.
In contrast, a sleeping church is a contradiction of Jesus. An apathetic church is a denial of Jesus. We are meant to be enthused and enthusiastic. If we become bored and tired as Christians - we need to pray for the refreshment of the Holy Spirit and the power for revival. We are not meant to give up or give in - but - in faith - to continue and persevere as long as we have breath.