Scripture Readings: 2 Samuel 5:1–5, 9–10 | Psalm 48 | 2 Corinthians 12:2–10 | Mark 6:1–13
“So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
There’s an old saying that comes to mind: ‘familiarity breeds contempt.’ The more we think we know something, or someone, the more we tend to dismiss their significance or value. While not true in every case, this can be an easy trap to fall into: treating those closest to us far worse than they deserve, or rolling our eyes when someone we know really well tries to influence us. We might be tempted to ask: “Just who do they think they are?” “What gives them the right?” “Do they think that they know better than us?” “Do they think that they are better than us?” As strange as it may sound, sometimes its harder to gain the confidence of those we’re closest to… to challenge or change how they already perceive us. And yet throughout the Scriptures, we find the Living God at work, transforming the familiar, the simple, the ordinary into the precious gifts of His Kingdom… challenging and renewing how we look at everything and everyone… including ourselves.
In our Scripture readings today, from 2 Samuel and the Gospel of Mark, our attention is drawn to two very different responses to God’s chosen ones: inviting us to consider how we are to respond as well.
The first reading tells of how David was welcomed by Israel as their new King. A few weeks ago, we heard how God had secretly chosen David to replace Saul as Israel’s king, after the latter repeatedly proved himself to be unfaithful to the LORD. At the time, David was just a simple shepherd, tending his father’s flocks, but with the LORD at work in his life, he became a powerful soldier, and a well-loved general. After Saul’s demise, we’re told that David, despite his humble beginnings, received the whole nation’s confidence, and they happily accepted him as their king. This passage offers a simple, straightforward picture of God’s people saying ‘yes’ to the one the LORD had anointed and chosen to reign over His good Kingdom.
The passage from Mark’s Gospel, on the other hand, paints a very different picture: where rather than being received, we find God’s chosen One is rejected… despised by those closest to Him: Christ’s own family and neighbours.
Returning to His hometown of Nazareth, after an intense season of ministry, Jesus continued His mission and work, sharing the Good News of God’s Kingdom. He began by teaching in the synagogue, and at first all seems well. But soon it’s clear the people of Nazareth are having a hard time reconciling the Jesus they thought they knew with the One standing before them. The scholar Morna Hooker describes the scene like this: “The congregation is astonished at his wisdom and at the mighty works… that are performed at his hands: they recognize him as the agent of a supernatural power. But their astonishment quickly turns to disbelief: he cannot be what he seems, since they know who he is and where he comes from.”
Despite His words of wisdom, despite the miracles, and works of power they had heard about, they all still doubted, dismissed, and looked down on Jesus. “Where did this man get all this?” they said, “What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being 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?” (Mark 6:2-3) In other words, they were saying to themselves: “Who does He think He is?”
Another New Testament scholar, Peter Marty, has this to say: “The tone of Jesus’ reception by his family and “friends” is hardly warm. Their language is shaded with negativity. They seem to appreciate the results of what they see Jesus doing, even if it puzzles them in large measure. But they do not appreciate him. They do not accept him for who he is.”  At issue in Nazareth wasn’t His message, or the Kingdom work He was doing… the source of their doubt, their biggest obstacle was their ideas of Jesus Himself. They thought they already knew all there was to know about Him… that He was no different than them, despite all the rumors and signs to the contrary. They could not see how the little, ordinary child they had seen grow up before their eyes could be something more; could be the One chosen by the LORD to finally bring in His Kingdom… could be Someone who actually embodied the Living God in human flesh… that Mary’s boy could also be the only begotten Son of God.
How often are we tripped up by what we think we know about Jesus? Dismissing and disregarding what He is revealing to us about Himself, because we remain unwilling to let our old ideas be challenged? Our assumptions about His character? His intentions? His will for us? This episode in Nazareth reminds us of how important it is for all of us not to try to put Jesus in a box… not to pretend we have Him all figured out… but instead to be open to the surprising, life-long journey of growing closer to Him. Of learning to listen to His voice, and to trust Him more and more.
Because of their unbelief, the people of Nazareth missed out that day… limiting their contact with the healing, freeing power of God’s Kingdom, which was standing right before their eyes in Someone they thought they knew so well. They rejected Jesus; foreshadowing where Mark’s Gospel is headed. Not toward earthly success, but towards suffering… and salvation. Towards the Son of God enduring the rejection of the world on the cross, in order to reconcile the world to the Living God. In the rejection of Jesus by His own family and neighbours, Marty writes: “we get a taste of the challenging task Jesus will face in his ministry, all the way to the cross. We [also] see some demanding features of what the full mission entails for those who choose to follow him.”
Which leads us to the Disciples of Jesus: that odd assortment of ordinary folk… fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, and others with unknown professions. They had been chosen by Christ to follow Him: to take part in His mission and ministry, and to join Him in sharing God’s Kingdom with the world around them. Who did they think they were? What were their qualifications for such a serious, significant calling? Just one: They had been with Jesus. Bearing witness to what He was saying and doing… even as they still struggled to understand it all. After all, Mark’s Gospel paints the Disciples as pretty clueless most of the time… yet these are the people that Jesus entrusts with the mission of God’s Kingdom. Ordinary, simple, familiar people, empowered and sent by Jesus to change the world.
How did He send them?
Not with lots of provisions or earthly possessions… encouraging them instead to trust in God, and on the goodwill of their neighbours… though, after Christ’s own rejection by His family and hometown, it’s clear that they too should be prepared to face rejection as well.
He did not send them alone either, but together… as pairs of witnesses. As small communities of faith sent out to share the Good News.
And He did not send them to gain honour, power, or influence for themselves, but to offer a place in God’s Kingdom to anyone who would welcome it: proclaiming repentance… turning around lives, not just heaping on guilt. Casting out demons… bringing spiritual freedom to those bound by darkness. Curing the sick… touching lives with tangible help, healing, and hope. They were sent to be living signs of God’s Kingdom… God’s holy love breaking into our world.
As Disciples of Jesus Christ today, who do we think we are? How do we envision our own role in this ongoing story?
There was a time when Christians wanted, and even expected to rule… to possess great power and influence in our wider society. For many years, we saw this as God’s calling for the Church: to be the ones who called the shots… and for a time, that’s what we did. Welcomed by the world as keepers of things like truth, goodness, and duty.
That time is long-gone now… and there’s no going back!
And with the growing divide between the Church and our wider Canadian culture… especially when we as Christians don’t live in line with God’s good Kingdom… we should not be surprised if we encounter unbelief from our neighbours.
Yet Christ Jesus still sends us out to share His Kingdom with our world today. We’re sent perhaps without much worldly power, possessions, or influence… but called to trust in God’s ongoing presence, providing all we need to be faithful to His mission. We’re sent together, not alone, as a community of faith, bound to one another by God’s holy love… to strengthen each other, support one another, and challenge one another to stay true to our Lord, even when our courage starts to fail. And we’re sent, not leaning on our own strength, but in the strength of the Risen Lord… whose grace is sufficient to sustain us through every trial we face, and whose power is made perfect even in our weakness.
Who do we think we are?
Whether we face welcome or rejection… outward success or serious struggles… we are those who have been called to follow Jesus, the Risen King of Kings. We are those entrusted with the Good News: with the message of repentance, freedom, and hope found in Jesus Christ. We are a fellowship of simple, ordinary, familiar people, graciously being drawn into the family of the Living God… not because we deserve it more than others, but so that we can invite them too! So that the world might come to know the saving love of Jesus, and with us share in the New Life of His eternal Kingdom. Amen.
 Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel according to Saint Mark, Black’s New Testament Commentary (London: Continuum, 1991), 152.
 Peter W. Marty, “Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B,” in The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, Volume Three, ed. Roger E. Van Harn (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 213.