Sermon for the Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
Trinity Church, Mt. Airy, NC
July 8, 2018 8:30 AM Proper 9B
οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ τέκτων, ὁ υἱὸς τῆς Μαρίας καὶ ἀδελφὸς Ἰακώβου καὶ Ἰωσῆτος καὶ Ἰούδα καὶ Σίμωνος; καὶ οὐκ εἰσὶν αἱ ἀδελφαὶ αὐτοῦ ὧδε πρὸς ἡμᾶς; καὶ ἐσκανδαλίζοντο ἐν αὐτῷ.
Isn’t this the joiner, the son of Mary and the brother of James and Joses and Judah? And aren’t his sisters here with us? And they were [thoroughly] offended by him. (Mark 6:3)
“Son of Mary?”
I couldn’t give you a fair translation of that profanity from the pulpit, but you don’t have to think hard to figure out the insult. Jewish men and women in Palestine bore their fathers’ names—that is, if you knew who their fathers were. It doesn’t take much imagination to come up with the equivalent English insult.
You can just hear the buzz in the synagogue that Saturday morning:
We know his mom and the other kids in the family, don’t we? Evidently, they weren’t held in much more repute than Jesus. Riff-raff, all of them! We probably shouldn’t even let Jesus and his brothers enter the synagogue, let alone the holy temple in Jerusalem. But the people in Jesus’s hometown—and notice that Mark doesn’t tell you the town’s name—the people in Jesus’s hometown, like those of other Jewish towns in the Galilee, wasn’t as rigid about social roles as the folks in Jerusalem. Live and let live, we say! But there’s a reason we’re not mentioning dad, isn’t there? We knew this guy when he was just another rug rat in town; and good for him that he went out and learned a profession—good housebuilders are hard to fine—but where does he get off pretending to be a prophet and healer? Maybe the rubes in Magdala and Capernaum will buy that, but we know this kid; we remember this disadvantaged child who did pretty well for himself until he took up preaching!
And they were right, weren’t they? Crowds may have followed Jesus around Lake Kinneret to hear him preach and to watch him make the lame walk and the blind see; but when Jesus got home, got home to people who knew him and remembered him, he couldn’t do squat. Oh, some were saying he did a healing or two, but no crowd gathered to see him unstop the ears of the deaf or witness the exorcism of powerful demons. Mark doesn’t try to tell us what Jesus might have said in the synagogue that morning. What would be the point? Whatever he might have said got dismissed out of hand by the people who really knew him, knew him as Jesus, the Son of Mary, if you will, and couldn’t imagine calling him Rabbi or Master or even Sir. Call the Son of Mary, Sir? Are you kidding me?
Many years ago, I had occasion to visit my old Baptist church in Roanoke on a Sunday morning when my father needed a ride there to do his duty as the Sunday School secretary, a mysterious role I never quite understood, but one that had something to do with the little attendance pins the pastor gave out on Easter to the men, women, and children, who had demonstrated perfect Sunday School attendance for the year. While my Dad was busy with his calculations, I dropped in on the men’s Bible class, where the assembled gentlemen were involved in a heated discussion of the perennial question of Bible readers over the centuries: Where did Cain get his wife? Well, wasn’t the class fortunate that morning? There’s a simple answer to that question, and the class had visiting that morning a son of that church who taught biblical studies at Wake Forest University. I was sure the class, that included childhood friends and some of their fathers, really wanted to know the answer; so I gave it to them. For a moment, you could have heard a pin drop. The teacher joined the rest of the class in looking at me with some of the amazement with which Mark tells us Jesus’s friends and neighbors looked at him in that Greco-Roman synagogue so long ago. Finally, turning to the members of the class, the teacher said,
“I don’t know where Cain got his wife,” he told the class, “but I’ll look it up and tell you next week.”
Whoever the guy who spoke up that day thought he was, the men’s Bible class of Oakland Baptist Church, knew that he was really just one of those little kids that couldn’t sit still in church and didn’t bother to get saved until he was the ripe old age of nine years old. Little Freddy Horton wasn’t going to do any mighty works in their town!
Fair enough. At least, nobody called my Mother a bad name.
But the issue was much more serious for Jesus than for me. Mark shows no interest in the blow to Jesus’s ego when the people of his hometown insulted his mother and rejected him. Jesus shows no concern about his family name or his personal reputation but he does show great about his former neighbors. In Mark’s words, “And he was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:6a). He didn’t call down fire and brimstone from heaven on his hometown. He didn’t even stomp out of town and shake the town’s dust off his feet as a witness against its residents. Despite their contempt, he had pity on the sick people who did come to him and healed them, even though he knew the healings would be laughed off by the synagogue-goers. But he worried about his former playmates and their parents and those who thought so little of him and his family as to call them names. He worried about their lack of faith. Whatever pain he felt was for them, not for himself.
Mark among all the gospels dares to suggest that Jesus’s ability to heal did not depend upon some magical force within himself but depended instead upon a force within those who came to him in hope and trust. He healed the paralytic because of the faith of the men who brought the man to him on a litter and literally took the roof off a neighbor’s house in order to get the sick man to Jesus. He raised Jairus’s daughter not through the magic words טליתא קומ(י) but through the unrelenting faith of the ruler of the synagogue. On the way to the ruler’s house, a woman was healed of her years-long gynecological illness because she trusted that even a touch of his outer cloak could save her. Blind Bartimaeus made a perfect idiot out of himself in his effort to get Jesus’s attention at the gate of Jericho, believing beyond all logic that Jesus could cure his blindness. In Mark, faith is the engine of salvation, uncompromising, undeterred faith that always defies convention and seems to fly in the face of good sense. Faith for Mark is not a quiet assurance, but, rather, a bold, even foolish act of hope.
That extravagant faith amounts to the kind of faith that has a Staples program to feed hungry people in a country and a state that has stopped caring about hungry people. That reckless hope in Jesus brings a congregation to North Main Street to sing the old songs and to celebrate the ancient mysteries within an American population that is less committed to religious faith than ever before and has created a new category of belief called “the nones,” that is, that ever-increasing number of Americans who answer “none” when asked what faith they practice. Like Bartimaeus, Trinity Church has assembled here Sunday after Sunday for 122 years, crying out in hope, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me” to the raucous laughter of those who understand only the power of money, influence, and privilege.
Jesus sadness about his hometown didn’t come from the indifference his former neighbors showed to him but from their lack of faith, their shortage of hope. He was amazed at their hardness of heart, the fact that their capacity for wonder and expectation had turned into a soulless cynicism, the very opposite of faith. What about our cynicism? What about our temptation to surrender to the common wisdom that celebrates bigness as success and derides hope and charity as impossibly naïve sentimentality? What great deeds do we expect Jesus will do in our township? What healing do we hope he can accomplish? What Gospel are we willing for him to preach here? And how prepared are we to continue to be his foolish, reckless disciples?
 Contrast this lack of vindictiveness with the stern counsel he gives his disciples to do this very thing in Mark 6:11 if any town rejects their teaching.
 Mark 2:1-12.
 Mark 5:21-43. This was last Sunday’s Gospel.
 Mark 10:46-52.