Astounded and Offended; Amazed and Perplexed

Where did he get this wisdom? From where does he get this power? Isn’t he one of us? He’s one of Mary’s boys – and they listed them by name. And their astonishment turns to offense.

Astounded and Offended; Amazed and Perplexed

Mark 6 He (Jesus) left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “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! 3Is 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?” And they took offense at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Jesus was back in the synagogue again. The healing of Jairus’ daughter opened the door and the hometown crowd were astounded when they heard Jesus’ words and wisdom. And when they saw the ‘deeds of power’ that stretched their ability to comprehend.  Where did he get this wisdom? From where does he get this power? Isn’t he one of us? He’s one of Mary’s boys – and they listed them by name. And their astonishment turns to offense. It seems hard to understand. How could such insight and wholeness be the basis for rejection? Jesus disrupted their understanding of who they are and who they could be. Evidently that’s not always appreciated. For the Synagogue people it wasn’t ‘good news’.

 

If there is any truth in that analysis what does it say about how we apprehend for ourselves the truth of Jesus’ message? Jesus is too generous. He offers what we all want but to own it requires too much of us – our not living into that grace has to be blamed on someone – someone else. In her blog Marcelle Martin listed ten elements of the Quaker Spiritual Journey which she discovered in her extensive reading and spiritual quest. She first identifies “Longing”, “Seeking”, “Turning Within” but says these bring a person to the next three: “Openings”, “The Refiner’s Fire”, and “Being Gathered into Community”. Not devaluing the experience of receiving guidance as in ‘Openings’ and the warmth and acceptance of a “Gathered Community” – the greater hurdle is having to being open to the work of what early Friends called the “Refiner’s Fire”.

It was a biblical metaphor adopted by Friends to described the process through which Christ’s Spirit melts away what is within us that resists God and God’s way. It is the refiner’s fire that burns off cravings for comfort, pleasure and social status. Through the work of the Refiner’s Fire temptation, sin and disbelief are gradually melted away. The Refiner’s Fire – that’s what Jesus’ teachings presented to his friends and neighbors, a challenge to become more.

 

A bit further in Marcelle’s list she holds up what she calls “Living in the Cross”. She describes saying that following Christ’s leading in our lives requires time and energy on behalf of others with a diminishment of creaturely desires and personal preferences. And she points out that giving witness to kingdom values and taking up counter-cultural ways of living elicits resistance from others.

 

Phrases like ‘The Refiner’s Fire’ and ‘Living in the Cross’ sound like places we don’t want to go and sacrifices we don’t really want to make.  We prefer a kinder, gentler gospel that puts a song in our hearts and gives us assurance that maybe we aren’t just fine the way we are but we live in anticipation that when all’s said and done we will  have pie in the sky.

 

Mark tells us that as Jesus’ name became more widely known King Herod began to imagine that Jesus was John the Baptist brought back to life. Then the evangelist tells us the whole horrid story. This is what had happened:

 

17For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

So much for integrity as being the finest characteristic of ideal humankind. Mark 6 holds up for us to see two instances where the actions of persons ‘righteous and holy’ in the story of John the Baptist and in Jesus’ situation, of ‘wisdom and power’ elicit resistance and rejection, and in both resulted in their execution. This certainly doesn’t sound like the ‘success gospel’ so popular today. It says that following Christ is risky business. Yet sitting between these two stories in Mark’s Gospel we find this:

Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

What? How audacious? Despite the promise of resistance, rejection and possible execution Jesus calls twelve and sends them, two by two, like animals from the Ark, to proclaim that all should turn their lives around. And lives were changed. And through the continuing work of Christ’s spirit the calling and sending, the hearing and responding continues and that’s good news.

It’s reminiscent of Hannah Green’s novel “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden.” which told the story of a young woman’s battle with schizophrenia and led her to embrace the challenges of earth. Of course most of use only recall it from the song sung by Lynn Anderson – almost fifty years ago –and it’s still in our popular language.

I could sing you a tune and promise you the moon But if that’s what it takes to hold you I’d just as soon let you go But there’s one thing I want you to know You’d better look before you leap still waters run deep And there won’t always be someone there to pull you out And you know what I’m talking about So smile for a while and let’s be jolly love shouldn’t be so melancholy Come along and share the good times while we can I beg your pardon I never promised you a rose garden Along with the sunshine there’s gotta be a little rain sometime…..

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