Reflection for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
5 July 2015
Readings: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13
This week I have been troubled by the financial crisis that confronts Greece and deeply disturbed by the implacable neo-liberal economics that demand more of the austerity and that has shredded Greece’s social fabric. As I think about this and then contemplate the gospel story of Jesus being rejected in the synagogue, I feel these two situations of crisis grate against each other. I find I have a question: could the rejection of Jesus by the establishment in the synagogue have something to say to the European financial establishment and its scorn for the Syriza party with its promise to protect the vulnerable and suffering of Greece? I leave the question open ‘on the table’ for your thoughts and I declare it to you because it has been weighing on me.
Now, to our text! Reading our gospel this morning one has a sense of recognition, a vague familiarity: is it just that we have read this before, even often? Or is the recognition something more than that? Are we recognising something that is more reminiscent of a melody or a pattern or a pathway remembered only in dream? Does some instinctual memory in us respond?
What I am suggesting to you is that we have been here before. As elsewhere in Mark, here we have two passages that mirror against each other. In the first we see Jesus enduring the hardship of the work of the Kingdom of God; in the second, we see the disciples sent out to do that work. But you may rightly say – but aren’t these passages so different, since in the one we see Jesus being rejected but in the other we see the disciples having a fruitful ministry? The way I see it, in musical terms, the relation could be thought of as contrapuntal.
We begin with the wonderful start where Jesus leaves the place where he has brought a dead girl back to life and returns to his home town, and the community which knows his family and, it would seem, even remembers him. In this dangerously familiar context he starts to expound the scriptures and brings down the wrath of the community as a series of querulous questions beat against him.
‘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!
· 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?’
It’s impossible to miss the sense of indignant outrage as the great and the good of the synagogue community don’t hold back but get a vast load of resentments off their chests; so quickly does this poison bubble to the surface that one feels that there is a history of resentment here. Is this a toxic community that Jesus has returned to? Is this a community somehow predisposed to nastiness? The venom in the questions and the jibe about him being a labourer (tekton) ‘the carpenter’ all point toward a troubled community. If so, then he, who has been sent as redeemer of the world, will not be surprised at what comes later. Here in his home town the shadow of the cross already lies across his life.
But maybe this Nazareth is also everywhere – perhaps we recognise ourselves in these sneers and jibes; recognise our own quickness to reject, critique, judge and condemn. Take this self-knowledge a little further and embed it in our context and experience: could this village synagogue even be our shadow, our cathedral – a dreadful thought! Do we recognise the shadow of the cross in our midst?
Did you notice that Mark provides us with a surprising detail when he notes that Jesus “was unable to do any mighty deed?” It seems strange to record a limit to Jesus’ power; especially strange when we think back to that momentous raising of the dead girl only a few verses earlier. That Mark registers this nonetheless suggests that something important is at stake. My hunch is that we are discovering something about the nature of God: Jesus is no miracle worker who indulges in flashy signs and wonders to dazzle us and compel belief; he does not transgress our freedom to receive him or to deny him. Where there is no openness to the power of God, no ‘mighty deed’ will take place.
Now, for the second part of the gospel this morning: here, in contrast to the intense experience of rejection in the synagogue, Jesus sends the twelve out on a mission. The disciples are given power over unclean spirits and they are instructed to travel light, not be encumbered by luggage or by anxieties of how they will live, and where they are well received they are to stay put and not move around. We see that, like Jesus, the disciples cast out demons; they proclaim repentance; and they do works of healing. The disciples replicate the mission of Jesus fruitfully.
In just a few verses we catch a fascinating glimpse of the church established as a community that is sent: (1) to proclaim the gospel fearlessly; (2) to confront evil; and (3) to be the instrument of God’s healing power.
In times of doubt or difficulty it is always good to come back to this image of the church. This is who we are. This is our identity and it is our core business. Are we doing this? How are we doing this? And, returning to the problem with which I started, what would we say to the European ministers of Finance?