As part of its military development programme Iran sens a monkey into space. On this Tuesday morning that seems to me a good image of a humanity which demands that other creatures bear the costs of its aggressiveness. This blog, however reflects on the daily readings of the Episcopal Church, and looks for wisdom.
WHEN YOU’RE TOO SCARED-SEND AN ANIMAL
The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth
6He left that place and came to his home town, 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 offence* at him.4Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, 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.
The Mission of the Twelve
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.
These two narratives in their different ways show the human weakness of Jesus, the Son of God. In the first he finds that he cannot heal those who have no trust in him. Healing is not simply “an act of power”; it requires the cooperation of the sick person. In the second, Jesus sends out his 12 messengers, showing that he can’t do it all himself; he needs their help.
Mark’s portrait of Jesus is subtle. Being Son of God does not mean being superman. He is always at one and the same time, the resurrection man who brings new life from God, and the crucified man who lives and dies under the constraints of humanity.
Here we learn a little about his humanity. His mother and brothers are named and his sisters are mentioned. There is nothing in the text to support the view that these are not real brothers and sisters. That only becomes a necessary view if you believe in the quite unbiblical doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. He is described a carpenter, that is, as a local builder. Jesus was a self-employed tradesman, who would have had to deal with the financial aspects of his business as well as the skilled labour. He may have had partners in this enterprise. Apart from the construction and repair of buildings Jesus plc would have undertaken work on fishing and farm equipment as well as domestic fittings. There is no mention of him being married, and clearly, if he had been, his wife must have died before he began his ministry. But it would have been very surprising and the subject of comment if a young Jewish working man had not been married. In my judgement, it’s as likely that he was as that he wasn’t.
His humanity is evident also in his inability to heal those who had no trust in him. He doesn’t heal by force majeure or by magic. He brings life but those who want it need to reach out towards it. With Jesus, a sick person can share God’s goodness. It is not clear historically exactly how Jesus healed people. The narratives are stylised. But it’s clear that the sick person’s active cooperation in their own cure was required. Mark says he could not do acts of power in Nazareth. Matthew, offended by Mark’s blunt depiction of Jesus’ inability, softens this and says he did no acts of power. (Matthew 13:58)
The sending of the twelve messengers is evidence of a) a symbolic act of Jesus, sending twelve messengers to gather the twelve tribes of Israel into God’s rule, and b) an urgent mission by messengers who would announce God’s rule by being utterly powerless themselves, totally dependent on the response of others. For Jesus this is indeed the heart of God’s rule, in its weakness it depends on the actions of those who trust in it. St. Paul called this, the “foolishness and weakness” of God.
Those who want Christian churches to have political power, protected status, wealth and social prestige, will find no encouragement in the story of Jesus; whereas those who are prepared by word and action to make a quiet, determined witness to God’s love and justice will find their own ministry mirrored in his.