Mark 6.1-13

This morning’s gospel reading paints a picture for us of just how fickle and illogical human beings can be. The crowd begin by being in awe of Jesus. They seem to accept that he has wisdom, and they seem to accept that he is doing deeds of power. I imagine them talking of these things in whispers to one another in the synagogue, and maybe more openly over a cup of wine. But then the crowd turns. People, and I think we basically imagined the same people, realise who he is. He is from their village. They know his Mum and the person they think of as his dad. He is the carpenter’s son, and in fact they know him as the Carpenter; he has gone into Joseph’s trade. They know his brothers and sisters. He is one of them, but that does not mean they accept him. If he were someone from far away, they probably would have accepted him. But as it is, he is from around here. He is not some mystical, other-worldly person. They knew him as a kid. Maybe some of them think that he is putting himself ahead of them. Maybe some of them are jealous of his position or his knowledge or his power. Maybe they think that it should have been them. And so even though they have previously acknowledged his wisdom and his power, they turn against him and want nothing to do with him.

Later in the story, Jesus sends out disciples to preach and he gives them instructions about what they are to do when they find that people want nothing to do with them. Their preaching seems to have been identical to that of John the Baptist, simply that people repent, and they also healed people. But it is striking that Jesus holds out the very real possibility for them that they will not be well received.

Sometimes an ill reception will be found where it is least expected. The people of Nazareth did not celebrate Jesus as one of their own who had excelled, but rather held him in contempt. And the same would have been true for the disciples. Sometimes they would have gone to a village and had little hope of a good reception, but would have been warmly welcomed. Sometimes they would have gone to somewhere they were sure would listen, only to be turned away. We cannot always predict what people will be like. And besides this, people can be fickle. What may one day be received with open arms may another day be pushed aside and scorned. It may be little to do with the disciples or little to do with us today, with some people it is all about catching them on a good or a bad day.

But as true as the reasons for people rejecting Jesus might be, before we just put it down to a bad day, or to jealous people, let’s think about what Jesus and his disciples were doing and about how we might have reacted. Some years ago, there were huge financial problems in a European country. The government had taken on far too much debt and did not have the means to pay the interest. They had also obscured the problem until it was too late. It caused some wide-spread financial problems in the Euro-Zone and more widely. I remember that some years before the crisis, a retired government minister from that country had been talking on the radio and had been warning about the impending problems, urging the government to change their policies, reign in their spending, and to be more transparent. Then several serving government ministers were brought on air to respond, and claimed that this was all lies. As it turned out, they were the ones doing the lying, or to be more charitable, they thought that it would all be alright, but they were wrong. It turned out that the single lone prophetic voice was the right one. And because it was inconvenient, no one wanted to listen. And the same is too often true in all sorts of other instances. Think of the vary many sex abuse scandals where someone has warned Churches or other institutions of a problem, only to be ignored. Or think of almost any other scandal involving abuse of power. Almost always there is a prophetic voice who was ignored.

I am sure we all like to think that we would not be like the people of Nazareth, and that we’d have listened to Jesus and taken him and his disciples seriously. We’d like to believe that, but I wonder if it’s true. Most of us have an inbuilt preference for what we already think, for what we already know.

One of my favorite authors is the fantasy writer, Terry Pratchett, who sadly died a few years ago. His book called The Truth is about setting up a newspaper, the first newspaper to be mass-printed in his imaginary universe of the Discworld. The paper is being printed in the great city of Ankh-Morpork, and the ruler of the city warns those who are creating the paper that even though it is a newspaper, people prefer “olds” rather than “news”. Most of us do not like things that challenge our perceptions. The fantasy newspaper has a moto that is taken directly from John’s Gospel, “The truth will make you free”. Drawing attention to it, but without commenting on it at all, Pratchett introduces a printing error in one edition, changing the final ‘e’ of ‘free’ to a ‘t’, so that it reads “the truth will make you fret”. I like Terry Pratchett’s books because although they are fantasy, every one of them involves a keen observation of human nature. Yes, we usually prefer “olds”, the things we think we know, and too much of the truth can indeed make us fret, worry, be concerned. And so, too often we do turn away from the prophet who is speaking the truth. It’s easier, far easier, to ignore them.

In encouraging us to try to be more open to what the truth might be, there is second sizable challenge, besides us instinctively not liking new things. That is that on the one hand we can be resistant to knowing the truth, but on the other hand, that we can be deeply credulous, and believe any conspiracy theory that comes along. So how do we listen to unpalatable points of view, but also be able to sift and assess them. It is no easy or straightforward process.  

Accepting the truth requires both courage and discernment. It is not an easy task to listen to uncomfortable truths, especially when they challenge our deeply held beliefs or the status quo. But as followers of Christ, we are called to be people of truth, to stand firm in our convictions while remaining open to the possibility that we might be wrong. This openness does not mean being gullible or accepting every new idea uncritically, but it does mean being willing to engage thoughtfully and respectfully with different perspectives.

In today’s gospel, we see Jesus sending out his disciples with the knowledge that they will not always be welcomed. This was not just a practical instruction for their mission; it was also a lesson in resilience and faithfulness. When we face rejection or skepticism, we can find solace in knowing that our very earliest forebears in the faith faced the same challenges. Our task is to persevere, to keep working at and for the truth, both the truth of Jesus, and the uncomfortable truths or things that might be true, or might not be, that we find we are confronted with from time to time.

As a community, we can help one another in this. So let us commit to being both seekers and sharers of truth. As a community, we can support one another in the difficult work of discernment, encouraging open dialogue and compassionate listening. In doing so, we honor the example of Christ and his disciples, who faced rejection and continued their mission, which was the uncovering and presenting of freeing truth.

And so, may we be blessed with the wisdom to know the truth, the perseverance to do the work of discernment, the courage to speak the truth, and both the courage and the grace to accept it, even when it is hard. And may we always remember that in our pursuit of truth, we are never alone, for Christ walks with us every step of the way. Christ is the truth, and even if it sometimes also makes us fret, the truth will set us free.