February 14, 2024

Hometown Reject

Pastor Amy Epp, February 4, 2024

Today’s scripture from Mark is a success story.  And it is a story of rejections.  Two stories that, in a way, mirror each other.  Or maybe more accurately parallel each other.  Mark is known for story telling brevity - everything is immediately this and at once that.  

So when the storytelling slows down and zooms in, we need to pay attention.  What we have here, is a slowing down.  He came to his hometown to teach with his disciples.  And then the questions begin. A litany of questions, a barrage:

Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! And the final blow: Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”  

We could think of this in two ways. Either (or maybe both) “Who does he think he is? He’s not better than us!” And/or it could be the way, when you go home - if you’ve left home for college and not lived around your family much - you kind of become a teenager again in your family of origin. Your family, your town, your people, have this expectation of what and who you are that in some ways doesn’t have anything to do with who you’ve become. You’ll always just be your parents’ kid. And there might be a little resentment mixed in there.

In some ways I find this a little surprising.  I am, as most of you know, a Canadian citizen.  And I think that Canadians living outside Canada are sometimes teased a little for always pointing out which musicians, actors or celebrities are Canadian: Keanu Reeves, William Shatner, Sandra Oh, Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling. Maybe it’s just me being teased about that.  Neighboring the behemoth that is the United States, little old Canada is always proud when its hometown kids make it big.  And OMG when someone from Saskatchewan gets a little bit of fame? 

Not so Nazareth.  Their comments initially sound good.  Astonishment.  But this quickly turns to dismay and then dismissal. This young man needs to be taken down a peg. His preaching and the authority that he’s showing are shameful. He should know his place and stay there. Their final question casts aspersions not just on him but on his parentage.  You’ll notice that there is no mention of Joseph.  

“Is not his mother Mary?” they ask.  Jesus is the son of that girl who got in trouble when she was a teenager (this is 30 years later, mind you).  This kid  is trying to be some kind of scholar or teacher.  I don’t think so, Jesus. We might buy your benches and tables, carpenter, but this? Forget it 

Jesus could - maybe should - have been angry.  He’s not.  He even goes on to lay hands on and heal as many in his community as would allow him to minister to them.  But he also does not shrink away or wilt under their scrutiny.  Instead he names himself prophet - revered and honored except in their hometown.  He connects himself to a lineage with  a greater depth of tradition and spirituality than this particular family and this particular town.  

He intentionally connects himself to the prophets who came before him, who spoke with boldness and authority and who were sometimes unpopular.  With the title prophet he answers the question: Who gave him the authority? Like the prophets: God! With whose voice is he speaking: As do prophets, he speaks with God’s voice! His hands do deeds of power through the power of God in him? Mary’s son? Yes, and also the begotten, beloved of God.  

“You may not be able to see or understand it. May no like it, even. Seems like prophets get no love at home, so okay! I’m out!”

And with that dismissal Jesus shakes his head and we pivot to the mirror image story.  It’s the bounce back. Part one begins, “Jesus goes to teach in the synagogue in his hometown.” Exactly as expected but he meets walls of resistance and rejection. And so the second begins, “Jesus goes out to teach among the villages.” He does not dwell in the rejection, or in resisting the negativity and barriers to his ministry in that place - he goes where he is welcomed.  And he brings his disciples with him.

In his conversation with his disciples we again see an infusion of detail: the slowing down that signals in Mark that we should take notice. In a gospel known for immediacy we don’t hear, “immediately he sent his disciples to heal and proclaim the reign of God.”  What we hear is  that Jesus calls them, he sends them in supportive community, he gives them authority and he instructs them in how to go about their ministry: Invitation, commission, instruction -  an answer and mirror to all the questions signaling rejection.  Through these instructions and the discipleship that follows, he will demonstrate “Who gave him this authority?” “What deeds of power he can do” And authorize others to do through the power of God!

Rejection as empowerment. 

I think it’s sometimes true as we grow up, change, adopt different politics than our families of origin or hometowns that the families, or communities we come from might not, like Nazareth - want to lay claim to us any more.  Coastal communities seem to attract the folks who’ve said goodbye to or put behind the places that don’t really have a place for them.  Jesus, in his instructions, give the hometown rejects a discipleship model to embrace, empowered to move forward:

Go together with authority - he sent them in twos - pairs of people to work in a supportive community, to hold each other accountable, to help each other - discipleship work is work best done with others. And know that God’s power for good and for love and in the face of what seems like a real s**t storm of rejection of God’s love and justice, be confident that the reign of God is still the reign of GOd. This particular way of being is what is strengthening me as I think about meeting with political reps and leaders. I don’t need to do it alone and I have the authority of the Prince of Peace as my foundation.

Travel light - No money, Jesus says to his disciples.  No extra clothes.  No food.  Examine what literally and spiritually weighs you down.  And so that you must depend on each other and on the hospitality of those who welcome you.  Allow yourself to be ministered to.  Let yourself be cared for and let hospitality be the gift offered to you.

This one brought to my mind the work of the traveler and modern-day prophet of peace, Peace Pilgrim, a women who through the sixties, seventies and eighties traveled on foot throughout the united states preaching peace and carrying nothing with her - depending on communities through which she traveled to shelter and feed her.  Saying, ‘I’ll walk until someone offers me bed, I’ll fast until someone offers me a meal.’ All with the intention of spreading the message of peace with self and neighbor. 

Shake it off - Taylor Swift was speaking Jesus’ language.  Shake the dust off of your feet as a testimony against them.  When you are not welcomed? When your message is ignored or worse insulted and rejected?  Shake. It. Off. Do not dwell on it and continue to be empowered by the authority of God’s Reign.

Nazareth may not want to hear it, but when his ministry is rejected there, his message only spreads, his influence grows.  Jesus may be a hometown reject but when he shakes it off he offers his disciples - including us, today - a model for letting rejection be empowerment - for finding community, authority and simplicity in dwelling in and proclaiming the good news of the Reign of God.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *