While Faith in Real Life is on break for the holiday this week, Vernon writes his thoughts on the week’s passage from Mark. Jesus gobsmacked those who heard his teaching in the synagogue. How could such wisdom come from a carpenter from Galilee? The crowd’s preconceived notions about Jesus’ upbringing led them to discount his message before it was ever delivered. How do we fall into this same trap today? And how do we interpret Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to shake the dust off their sandals if they aren’t welcomed as they go out into the world to preach?
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On 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! 3 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. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If 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.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
Faith in Real Life is not meeting this week because of the Fourth of July holiday. So this blog relates to issues we would have discussed. And it is also for me to stay in the discipline of writing.
I view this passage as Jesus preparing his disciples for the hard work and uncertainty that ministry requires. They have been listening and learning from Jesus. They have witnessed exorcisms, healings and the calming of storms. In that bubble of belief, who could doubt that Jesus was the messiah? But as we are to see, one man’s miracle is another man’s sleight of hand.
As the story unfolds, Jesus is initially well received. Many were astounded. “Where did this man get all this? But when they started checking him out, they realize that this new rabbi was really a local—”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?” There is an old joke among consultants that says the definition of an expert is anyone who lives at least 50 miles away and who has a power point presentation. Jesus might have had one hell of a presentation but he lived too close to be considered an expert.
In ordinary life, this is a common phenomena. When we are familiar with someone (or think we are), it is difficult to hear beyond what we expect. Parents often find it difficult to see the life experience and judgment of their own children. They hold onto the familiar experience of parenting and fail to see their children as adults. And the reverse is true. Mark Twain famously wrote: “When I was a boy of fourteen,my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” It would be like a group of theologians listening to a street preacher. What could such a man have to offer? The ‘learned’ ones would take offence at the idea they might need to learn from such a person.
Whether it is, ‘You’re too old to know what is going on’ or ‘You’re too young to know what you’re talking about, we take offence and dismiss people. We tell people they have no standing or no ‘right’ to speak. But there is not room for anything new if our assumptions and certainties cannot be challenged. It is true when we encounter each other in our families, it is true when we struggle with diversity in our nation and it is true when we encounter God.
My father was raised in central Florida in the twenties and thirties. His growing up did not include peer relationships with black people. I remember clearly him telling me that his first encounter with an educated black person was in a church gathering. Until then, he only had his assumptions and stereotypes. It did not occur to him that there could be another way than the one he was raised with. Meeting new people is revelatory if we can suspend our certainties. There were many in Nazareth who could not do so.
Jesus was ‘amazed at their unbelief’—but he was not deterred—-and he faced the reality squarely. He continues to teach among the villages and he sends his disciples out two by two to do likewise. His preparation for ministry is noteworthy. He gave them authority but “He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.”
It is one thing to talk about the vulnerability of trusting God and it quite another to live a life dependent upon others for survival. By taking so little, the disciples would always be aware that they would have to rely upon the kindness of strangers— in a world where many strangers would be unkind. They would have to be seen as children of God instead of noticed for their place in the secular world. In real life, this is a hard way to live.
Jesus’ disciples were denied any secular claim to authority. They were called to be a living confrontation to the world’s way of valuing and a living example of a willingness to put their lives in God’s hands. In real life, that meant living in the knowledge that many people would would reject them. Living the Christian life requires that we be prepared for the fact that other people always have the right to think ill of us. It happened to Jesus, it happened to the disciples and it will happen to us. I think that is why Jesus sent them out two by two. We can not live the Christian life alone. It is too hard. We need each other.
I frequently have clients who expect their partners to listen because they are right. They think if they can prove their rightness, they will carry the day. It is hard to live in the reality that it doesn’t matter if we are right if no one is listening. We can offer the very best part of ourselves and still be rejected. We have no control over who listens. That is what the real world is like.
Facing this reality, Jesus instructed his disciples to shake the dust off their feet as a testimony against them. This can easily be read as a statement of self righteousness or an outright rejection of those who refuse to listen. I am more inclined to read it pragmatically. Faced with rejection, move on. Stand on what you believe, do not use the tactics of this world to make or force your point. Make your point but don’t try to ‘prove’ it, don’t become defensive, don’t judge—even as you are being judged. Move on. Do not be surprised when you are not received and do not reciprocate with disregard. Move on. Moving on is a testimony against dichotomization. It is a testimony against demonization. It is a testimony against the world’s way.
This is a very high standard. We are always tempted by the world to use coercion to make our point. But Jesus was very consistent. He relied upon God. He took the next step. He did not insist on his own way. He loved. That is the third way, that is the Christian way.
I would love to have that level of confidence in my life. But in real life, my need for security, approval and validation is such that I am unlikely to rely on God to that degree. I am far more likely to belong to other people’s opinions of me than to belong to God. I am going to have to settle for moving in His direction.
As best you can, rely upon God. Trust that he will be sufficient—even as you are misunderstood, unseen and rejected. Take the next step in love. Let it be so.