I went to school in Halifax, and my Newfoundland friends would often complain about how hard it was for a Newfoundlander to get a job in Newfoundland. They said that a CFA was more valuable than a Ph.D. CFA. Come From Away. When it came to hiring, for some reason someone who had grown up in the local town was less attractive than someone from away, even if they had the same credentials.
And that’s what has happened in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus is in his hometown, and it looks as if no one is interested in what he has to say. At first there is amazement, but as soon as they realize he is just Mary’s kid, the one they watched grow up, they close their ears. He has no CFA. They took offense at his uppity-ness. It was hard for the home town crowd to believe that someone as ordinary as Jesus could say anything amazing. Someone as ordinary as the Jesus they watched grow up. Who does he think he is?
They did not trust the message because of the messenger. We, the readers, know that this is Jesus that can calm the wind and the sea, who raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead and who healed the hemorrhaging woman. But in his home town, the Gospel tells us, he could do no deed of power except for a few healings. He was amazed at their unbelief.
I wonder why he could do no deed of power. Is God powerless unless we have faith? I don’t think so. In the Gospel of Mark, many stories of healing make no mention of the role of faith. Lutheran pastor Brian Stoffregen writes this:
“It may be that the people’s lack of faith revealed itself in the fact that they didn’t seek Jesus’ help. They didn’t bring their sick for healing. They didn’t bring their children for his blessing. They didn’t come to listen to his teaching. Faith implies actions. Without faith in Jesus, the people did nothing.”
I wonder if this is the unbelief that amazed Jesus. The unbelief that kept people away from Jesus. Their minds, and their hearts were closed to God. If they were looking for a saviour it sure wasn’t someone like Jesus. They couldn’t see or hear outside of their own expectations.
The Gospel of Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus was teaching, but in the second half of today’s reading, we hear what the twelve disciples have been sent to do in Jesus name, about the kind of teaching that Jesus was engaged in. The disciples anointed the sick with oil, cast out demons, healed, and they proclaimed that all should repent. All should repent.
What does it mean to repent? It means that we open yourselves to the possibility that we may not know everything. We may not be able to tell a book by its cover, we may not know what that kid we grew up with might have to say or do that would surprise us. We may not know what WE might say or do that would surprise us.
To repent is to make ourselves vulnerable, permeable to God. We give ourselves room to grow. To grow into God’s unbounded love for us. We give ourselves room to grow into the fact that God has unbounded love for our neighbour too. Without exception. If we are all equal recipients of God’s love, then there is no other approach to solve issues of justice and disagreement than peaceful approaches.
Repentance means we are able to hear something or see something and as a result of that experience to change our mind and our heart. Repentance opens the possibility that you may change your mind and your heart. We acknowledge any wrong that we have done through action or inaction, and we promise, with God’s help, to delight in God’s will and walk in God’s way. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? This is the language of the confession that we pray together each Sunday as a community of believers. This is a prayer of repentance.
By living into this prayer, we are training ourselves to truly see and hear the other, to break down barriers of judgment and dismissal; to acknowledge one anothers’ pain and joy without condition – from the delight at the birth of a new child to the pain filled struggle with depression or PTSD.
Repentance is what the Truth and Reconciliation process is all about. As Anglicans we have finally allowed God to work in our hearts and minds so that we can deeply listen and honestly hear the stories of those who have suffered as a result of the actions of our church. Repentance is an act of faith. An act of belief. It is the truth part of truth and reconciliation.
Notice the difference between those who think they know Jesus but cannot hear what he has to say, and the twelve who Jesus sends to do the work of God. Jesus chooses the same disciples who don’t ever quite understand who he is, who doubt he can feed the multitude, who don’t understand the parables, who wonder amongst themselves, who is this who is obeyed by the wind and sea? They are twelve flawed humans, and ordinary workers by trade.
No CFA. No credentials. Just a willingness to do God’s will. To trust even when they don’t understand. They are just like us. Ordinary. And God works in the ordinary. In the every day. In bread and wine – even in wafers and grape juice – in the beauty of the dandelion and the song of the crow. In the beauty of humanity. In the spectacular beauty of ordinary humans.
As Christians we are all sent to continue the work of the first twelve apostles that were sent by Jesus. In our baptismal covenant we promise continue in the apostle’s teaching, to resist evil, to repent when we fail, to see Christ in everyone we meet – irrespective of gender, race, mental health, level of intellect or physical ability, political affiliation, or religion — or where they grew up — and to love them as ourselves. We promise to strive for justice and peace among all people, and we are to care for our beautiful blue planet.
Jesus gives instructions to the disciples as to how they are to go about this work. They are to take only the bare essentials with them. No, not even the bare essentials. Not even bread, or a change of clothes. They, and we, must make ourselves interdependent with others, and vulnerable to love, and yes pain, if we are going to do this work.
I wonder if sometimes Christians are like Jesus’ hometown crowd, if we have domesticated Jesus and are unable to hear what he is saying.
Or when we do hear we think to ourselves, Who do you think you are? Telling us to go out into the world without protection, without armour or weapons or credentials. Just love and faith. What would that look like for me, for you, for us?
The final verses of today’s Gospel reading from the translation called “The Message” sum up this task well. And I’ll end with this.
“Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. YOU are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple. If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and continue on your way.”