"Stranger at Home" + Pastor Kinsey
This is not the first time Jesus enters a synagogue and is rejected. Three chapters earlier, in Mark 3, Jesus heals the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, in a synagogue, and “immediately” the religious leaders plot together how they can “destroy him.”
Even more interesting, I think, is that Jesus responds in much the same way, to each of these rejections. Not with despair, or to crush them in return, but by gathering his disciples and organizing them to go out and spread the good news of the mission that Jesus stands for – including, to cast out demons, and anoint and heal the sick.
There was only once, in my family growing up, that stands out to me now, when I really caused a stir in my family! My role as the middle child was to be ‘the accommodator.’ I was 2 years younger than my sister, the responsible one; and 1 year older than my brother, the clown and our comic relief! I was the nice guy in the middle, who made the peace. By the way, the name Fredric means, peaceful ruler.
Anyway, I was barely into High School, the day I stepped out of my traditional role, and blew up the natural expectations of how our family operated. It happened after dinner, when we always had family devotions together. We used to use resources like the CIOH devotionals, but this one had discussion questions too. I can’t remember what the bible passage was, any more. But I remember the discussion! Because, one of the examples was about nuclear power plants. This was the 70’s mind you! But instead of agreeing – being the accommodator – I took a contrarian position, because I had actually done some reading about how much water pollution nuclear power plants were responsible for, and that the real cost of producing its electricity is often much higher, once you factor in the extra safety features that have to have. Stuff like that! But before I could even get the discussion going very far, my usually, unflappable father, got up from the dinner table and walked out – something he had never, ever, done before. And that was the end of our devotion time. No final prayer, no, ‘ok, time to do your homework.’ Just a feeling of brokenness, and rejection.
By stepping out of my normal family role, I had put the whole system out of balance and caused a rebellion. And rebellion was not my dad’s usual role at all! Maybe compared to your family, this seems small. But in mine, it was about as bad as it gets.
In a way, this is what Jesus does when he goes back to his hometown. The ‘astounding teaching’ of Jesus in his synagogue, that Mark notes, surprised those who knew him. “What is this wisdom that has been given to him?” they asked. But, ‘he’s just a carpenter, right – Mary’s boy. We’ve known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us? Who does he think he is? And they took offense at him.’
The good carpenter boy, the blue collar young worker that they knew, kind of blew their minds, that day. And they wanted to put him in his place by reminding him that he was just ‘the son of Mary,’ he came from a fatherless family, and that he should still be at home helping to support his mother, as a carpenter. Not out gallivanting around the countryside, pretending to be a prophet. Jesus broke the family-hometown-mold, and it caused dishonor and rejection.
Jesus notes that, ‘prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And Mark says, ‘he could do no deed of power there… and was amazed at their unbelief.’
Jesus had changed. But those who knew him, once upon a time, were not equipped, or otherwise, not ready, to be open to change, in their lives, in response to the challenging and disruptive Good News Jesus preached. Jesus had been called away from his family by God, to heal the sick, release the captives, and proclaim the year of Jubilee. And if we are not open to that, it is bound to stir up trouble and rejection.
Change is hard. And change, just for the sake of change, to fit a fashion, or privilege only one’s self, is not helpful. But change that comes from the Holy Spirit is change that can heal and transform us, if we’re open to it. Even then – the change that Jesus introduced into his family and his town, his nation and his religion – even though it was, of the Holy Spirit, still, it was rejected. He was treated as a bringer of scandal, and Jesus paid the ultimate price for it, giving his life on the cross.
But what if we didn’t take offense at one another, but found a way to change and adapt to new growth in our families, in our churches, mosques and synagogues, in our towns and countries, and, between religions and nations? What would that look like? How do we prepare ourselves to be open to change, and to be ready for the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives?
If the Spirit blows where it will and we know the sound of it, but not from where it’s coming or going – the first thing we learn is that, we, are not in control. God is. And this means we have to develop a reservoir of trust for one another. We have to believe in the Golden Rule that Jesus, and all the great religious leaders taught, ‘to do unto others as we’d want them to do unto us.’ This kind of trust that we learn from the Holy Spirit, takes an adaptability on our part, to see and recognize all people as human – not perfect, but basically wanting the same security, and the same freedoms, we too want.
I think this explains why Jesus did what he did, even when he was rejected in the synagogue on two separate occasions! Jesus, didn’t retaliate, but decided to share and spread out, his mission, by engaging his followers. ‘He sent them out two by two’ and ordered them to take, very little, with them, so that they would have to depend on those who welcomed them into their homes. That takes a huge level of trust, on both sides of the doors they knocked on. But in taking that risk of going out, a safe space was created, and the good news could be communicated and passed on. Not that everyone eagerly received the disciples. Jesus anticipated those who would reject them, just like he was rejected, and told them to stand strong in their mission, and just move on to the next household.
As Ched Myers notes, ‘when Jesus was rendered a “stranger at home,”’ that is, a stranger in his hometown synagogue, still, ‘Jesus is instructing his community to learn to be “at home among strangers,”’ as they go out into the world.
In our polarized society today, this is more difficult to imagine implementing, than ever! But it is nowhere more effective than in the concerted efforts, of people-of-faith, who know how to share the message of good news, in our relationships with one another, wherever and whoever we are with. Creating the realm and kingdom of God is what we do every day, as the Holy Spirit directs us, and blows us about, this way and that!
There is rarely, change or transformation – that is, faith – without conflict in our relationships. But conflict doesn’t have to blow us up – figuratively or literally. We can learn to recognize that conflict is a challenge, to our adaptability. And the call of the Holy Spirit is really a blessing, if we listen and choose to go in the new direction that God has in store for us.