Working Out Home
[Jesus] went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is 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. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching. (Mark 6:1-6 ESV)
A homecoming is a special event – going home – back to memories, origins. It’s one thing to do it incognito – not recognised – like a historian checking out things of personal interest. It’s another thing if family and friends are still there – maybe parents are still in the family home – then it’s all about back slapping, hugs and handshakes – as people check out ‘how well you’ve turned out’ – provided of course that you have turned out ‘well’.
‘Well’ is the province of expectations, hopes and dreams and what is socially acceptable. So one might imagine a criminal finally returning home and being regarded as shaming the family because he had only been in prison once – his extended family of criminals expecting at least three incarcerations to be ‘successful’. Of course, in general the homecoming family and crowd want the returning one to be successful, wealthy, heroic, and so on and so will view things positively.
You’d think Jesus would have got a tickertape parade when he went to his home town – after all, he went there straight after raising Jairus’ daughter. But the reception is muted to say the least – and what surprises me – in the same way the Christmas story of Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem and having to check out all the hotels and motels – is the lack of family. Where is the family? They are spoken about but we don’t hear what they’re up to and how they’re coping with what their ‘big brother’ is doing. Jesus may have even stayed at home on this visit – we don’t know.
What we do know from Mark’s account of the gospel in Ch.3 is that his family have tried to seize him, maybe bring him home – because there was talk that Jesus had gone mad or was possessed by demons (v.21). When Mary and his brothers do turn up to where he is staying they can’t get in because of the crowd so they send for him and Jesus doesn’t go out but says “Who is my mother and my brothers?” and then looking at those listening to him he goes on, “Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (v.33-35). We have no account of what happened next.
But now (Ch. 6) Jesus is back in his home town. And he went to the synagogue. Luke records that very early in Jesus’ ministry he goes to Nazareth and goes to the synagogue but his reception is hostile when he claims that he is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Luke 4:16-30). Whether Mark is giving us his account of Luke or he is recording a further return to Nazareth (and it is at least conceivable that Jesus returned to his home town periodically) is not of critical importance – I choose to think that this is Jesus’ second visit home – but what is important to note is that the person and the actions of Jesus threaten other relationships … by either saying or suggesting that they are subservient to him.
The people in the synagogue put two and two together and in this case came up with five(!) – they could hear Jesus’ wisdom, reports of his miracles – undoubtedly his most recent one – were acknowledged – but I think this challenged two expectations. Their expectation of God – surely he can’t be ordinary – someone who maybe made a table or feed trough for them, who lived among them and didn’t even glow, someone whose mother had a shady past (why mention ‘son of Mary’ when the usual designation would have been ‘son of Joseph’?)? And secondly, if he is the Messiah, God’s servant from Isaiah, then he challenges them to do God’s will and this would involve doing things differently in their relationships at home and at work and out and about. Knowing him or claiming him as a friend won’t give you an edge, a favour, a card up your sleeve – did you hear what he said about his family? This Jesus wants too much it seems – and they are offended by him.
The Old and New Testaments proclaim a message that God relates to people and the best thing for people is that they relate to God. Because of sin we don’t relate to God in anything other than fear and maybe hatred and we don’t fare all that better with most people either. But God has rescued us in Christ – we say that as Christians – and given us new life with him – we say that when we point to Baptism and Holy Communion which personally link us with this same Jesus who was in the Nazareth synagogue … and later on a cross – and we live in a relationship with God so that we will have no other gods (or anything else for that matter) before him. We talk about faith and remaining close to God’s Word by which he builds and strengthens our faith, helps us with doubts and worries, and forgives us when we don’t relate well to him or to others. We tend to talk in terms of love rather than rules – we love God because he first loved us. From our perspective, our response, our love of God is first before anything else.
Never underestimate the power of the Gospel to save but also to challenge and confront and shock. Jesus claimed pre-eminence over family, marriage, work, peer pressure to conform to this world – and all the obligations and expectations that attend to them. This absolute expectation scares people – it smacks of fanaticism, cult behaviour – it doesn’t necessarily make for happy families and stable societies if you have people doing their own thing subject only to Jesus (or their interpretation of God’s Word). The early church held things in common and helped each other on the basis of need – cutting right across family, class, country, and any other expectation of the time.
We live a socially, economically, and politically different life today.
Today we don’t have to worry about emperor worship and proving that we are loyal citizens. However hypothetically, how would you react if your job suddenly became incompatible with your faith? Or, what do you do if family or friend or loved one asks you, pressures you to do something that your faith says is not the behaviour of someone who is in a relationship with Jesus? Which relationship wins out? (Is it a matter of taking turns – God one time, the other relationship the next?) Whom do we help with our resources and why? Asking questions is relatively easy. Finding answers that best reflect all our relationships – with Jesus as of first importance – is part of the struggle of walking in the footsteps of Jesus, carrying the cross.
Christians are not alone as they walk in Jesus’ footsteps and carry their cross. Yes, Jesus is with them. But also there are other disciples, followers around us as well; helping and supporting us. You see, Jesus directs us back into other relationships to live out the relationship we have with him. So family, work, congregation, civic duties are not ends in themselves but places of service – where Jesus is Lord. Christians can live and participate in a variety of cultures and political systems but always as aliens – our home is not here – we remain committed to being Jesus’ ambassadors everywhere, all the time – even at home – especially at home – where, often, it is hardest.
We’re known at home – the good, the bad, and the ugly side of us is on the big screen behind our front door at various times. At home, we’d prefer it if everyone got on, loved each other because they wanted to – and it can take some getting used to (but you’ll be grateful in the end) to be reminded or told that people are treating you not as you deserve but because of Christ.
Actually, apart from immediate family, most of us are far from home. Well, yes and no. Our nationalities and our histories will always draw us back to certain places but our faith draws us to the local congregation – to meet Jesus here – heaven on earth at this location – and also brothers and sisters in Christ – a family – where we remain linked not by common language or experience but by Christ. When we invite people here to meet Jesus and our family, it is because our relationship with Jesus is worth sharing (and living) for he is love and life personified. Where Jesus is, there we are home.
- Mark 6:1 - 6