by The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
Gospel: Mark 6:1-16
The best man in my wedding, Greg, had this really eccentric grandmother. I never knew her real name, because everyone just called her Grandma. She was a real character. She lived with my friend’s family and every time I visited she would be watching the news or Chuck Norris in Walker, Texas Ranger. She was a lot of fun to talk to because she would always tell you about the way life used to be when she was growing up in Ohio. Grandma was convinced that everything bad that happened in the world was a result of “that dope” as she would frequently comment.
She never could get my name right either. She always called me Cletus and said that she would never forget that my name was Cletus because she knew a man named Cletus who used to bring her black walnuts and I looked like him. So, I just didn’t have the heart to tell her that my name was Curtis and not Cletus. And Greg and all our friends would even call me Cletus when we were around her. But I will never forget a conversation I had with her one day. She was watching Chuck Norris as usual, and during the commercials an advertisement came on for this show whose premise was that the Apollo 11 moon landing was all a big fake and that it was shot in a film studio somewhere. I made the comment that I thought that was just a silly show not worth watching. She got all upset and told me that the moon landing was the biggest hoax ever played on the world. I never saw grandma when she wasn’t in that wheelchair, but she got up out of her wheelchair to educate me on this so-called hoax!
Grandma went on to tell me how Neil Armstrong lived on the same street as her when he was growing up and that he went to school with her son. She said that he always used to get into trouble and was just good for nothing. She said “I know that boy and there ain’t no way he ever did anything good in his life!” At one point she made reference to that show Leave It To Beaver and said that he was just like that Eddie Haskell boy. To her dying day, she refused to believe that we landed on the moon or even went into space.
Well, I don’t know how you feel about Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission, but my friend’s grandmother’s ideas about it seem remarkably like those of the crowd in Jesus’ hometown when he came through. Our gospel lesson this morning is commonly called the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth. The folk who lived on the same street as this carpenter’s son just couldn’t believe that someone from their block could have done the wonders and signs that Jesus was reported to have been doing around the region.
It makes one think about that statement, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” The problem was that the people of Nazareth thought they already had Jesus figured out. They knew who he was, they knew his family, his brothers and sisters. But even more than knowing who his family was and what they did, they knew his place in society. He was a craftsman, not a nobleman. Jesus was a carpenter, not a rabbi; a lower class blue collar kind of guy, not a priestly learned teacher.
The Greek word used here that’s typically translated as “carpenter” is the word tekton and it was a blanket term for a craftsman who built something whether it was a table or a house or a cart. And on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the high society folks and 1 being the expendables or untouchables, tektons (carpenters) were about a three. So, Jesus wasn’t an expendable or an untouchable as the Hindu equivalent might be, but he was certainly well towards the bottom. Whereas, rabbis would have been about an 8 on that same scale. And here was Jesus the carpenter, going all around the region working miracles and teaching large crowds of thousands of people about God and the Kingdom of God, convincing many people that he might actually even be the Messiah himself. You can almost hear the crowds saying, “I know that boy and there ain’t no way he ever did anything good in his life!”
The people in Jesus’ hometown thought they had Jesus figured out already. They thought that they already knew him. They knew where he had come from, they knew what his place in life was, and they saw him acting like somebody from a different world, and it made them uncomfortable and Mark tells us it even offended them. As you hear this story you’re probably thinking to yourself, “If I had been there I would have certainly known who Jesus was and not rejected him.” But let me be the first to remind you that we do the same thing now.
Just like the people of Nazareth, we think we have Jesus figured out. We know who he is, what he did, what he taught. But the reality is that we don’t know squat about Jesus! Mark is constantly telling us stories about how the disciples didn’t know who Jesus was—and they were with him day and night for three years! If you remember back to our gospel lesson from a few weeks ago when Jesus stilled a storm on the Sea of Galilee the disciples are frightened by the storm but they are absolutely terrified after Jesus calms the storm, saying to one another, “Who then is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?” How is it that we think we know better than the disciples? At best we might spend a few hours out of the 168 hours in each week trying to get our hearts and minds around who Jesus is.
There’s something very troubling about this story, particularly verse 5, “And Jesus could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” It seems as though Mark is saying that Jesus could have done so much more had the spiritual climate of Nazareth been more open to the real presence Jesus embodied there. Jesus wasn’t robbed of his powers by the unbelief in Nazareth, but he was limited by it. I can’t help but ask us all the question, “Are we doing something, anything, that might limit the power and kingdom of God in our own midst and in our town?” I hope we are not doing anything as individuals or as a church to limit the presence and power of God in our community.
That’s what the people of Nazareth were doing though. They put limits on Jesus. They tried to put him in a box. They said in their hearts that there was no way that the carpenter, the son of Mary could change the structure of the world. And, I want you to notice something else. The people of Nazareth call him the son of Mary, not the son of Joseph as would have been the cultural norm. And in so doing, they are actually insulting him and calling him illegitimate. It’s just one more example of how the people that thought they knew Jesus so well started putting limits on him and on what he could do.
As humans we are made constantly aware of our limitations. With each day that passes we seem to be made to feel more and more aware of just how limited we are. And we can’t help but direct those same feelings toward others as well. “I know that boy, and there ain’t no way he ever did anything good in his life.” My friend’s grandmother refused to believe that someone she knew could do something as miraculous as walk on the moon. The people of Nazareth refused to believe that a carpenter could one day be the savior of the world. We are good at putting limits on things, on people, and even on God.
But know this—God has put no limits on us. And just as he sent out his disciples long ago, so he sends you and me today to remind the world of his limitless love. I just hope that it’s enough to make you want to get out of your wheelchair. Amen.
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