The Rev. Jennifer Adams – July 8, 2018 – Proper 9, Year B: Mark 6:1-13
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 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! 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. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 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.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. (Mark 6:1-13)
For the past few weeks we’ve been hearing from the gospel of Mark story after story of healing after healing. There was Peter’s Mother-in-Law, the leper, various “people with demons or diseases,” and last week there were two biggies: a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years was healed and the leader of the synagogue, whose name was Jairus, his daughter was not only healed but raised up after having died.
So, based on what we’ve heard up to this point, Jesus had gotten in trouble along the way – because of whom he healed (often those who had been classified as “unclean”) and when he healed them (because sometimes he healed on the Sabbath). But even though he was being challenged by the Pharisees, Jesus was batting a thousand in terms of his rate of success; Jesus had healed everyone whom he had tried to heal. He’d even raised that little girl from the dead.
And then we get this story from chapter 6 where Mark tells us that Jesus “could do no deed of power there.” “Except,” Mark sneaks in, that “he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” So, this wasn’t a total strike out, but there were absolutely no home runs. In this passage there was no healing that was nearly as significant or unanimous an experience as it had been up to now. The only thing worth noting, for Mark anyway, was the hard truth that sometimes it just doesn’t take. Sometimes the healing, or peace offered can’t be received, doesn’t take hold. Which also means because we have to flip this too, that sometimes we fail to receive the healing or peace or grace being offered us.
This is a hard one but welcome to gospel trying to make it in this world. Healings happen. Resurrection happens. And sometimes crowds experience something with the power to turn an entire community toward good news, profound hope and large scale transformation.
BUT – sometimes it’s just a slog. Or worse, those sharing the good news are deemed, “offensive.” And no deed of power can be done at that time. (Except for minor ones – so remember whatever’s going on that it’s always good to look for those.)
Now I struggle with this passage, but I also appreciate it quite deeply, because as hard as it is, it rings so very true. And I know that I live on both sides of this story. Sometimes the good news and grace we offer is refused. And sometimes we are the refusers. Sometimes “deeds of power” are just plain hard to come by.
And so what do we do with that?
Well, “there will be houses you enter,” Jesus says, “places you are where you will not be welcome, and they will refuse to hear you.” Period. Apparently, we shouldn’t spend a whole lot of time fighting that reality. There are places in which you will not be welcomed and in which you will not be heard.
But “stay there until you leave,” Jesus told them. Which is sort of an obvious statement but it’s more than that. Jesus was saying, “be present there too.” Note that he didn’t say, “Then beat them up.” Or “Invite your biggest friends into the house with you and let them have it.” No. Nor did he say, “When you aren’t welcome become silent, or hide, or change the good news you’ve been given to share.”
All he said was that those kinds of situations will happen, sometimes deeds of power won’t take place. But, “Stay present. Even then.” Which would imply keep listening. Keep talking. Keep sharing meals. “Stay there, until you leave,” Jesus told them. And when it’s time, if the good news you have to offer isn’t received, shake the dust off and move on. And go offer those gifts other places. End of passage.
Which means there are challenges to us:
First Challenge: Stay for a while even when you have not been welcomed or you believe that reconciliation will never bloom, or it looks to you like healing will forever be out of reach. Be present. Listen. Speak truth. Share meals. And see what happens. Because sometimes something does. Staying is challenge number one.
Then “shake the dust off and move on” when it’s time. Which is challenge number two- because I’m a bad dust shaker offer. Maybe a few of you are too. Leaving can be hard. Stepping out of a situation in which healing needs to catch hold can be hard.
But what this gospel is saying is that sometimes healing can’t happen in a place I’m in, because I’m not the one who’s going to bring it. I might even be getting in the way of it happening. Welcome to humility as the gospel tries to make it in this world.
You know those situations where as much as you, or we try to “make it happen” it just doesn’t? It doesn’t mean healing won’t come. It just means that such peace still passes our understanding, sometimes it passes our capacities to make it happen, and sometimes we don’t get to see it when healing when it finally does catch.
And then finally is challenge three: the challenge to receive peace and healing and resurrection when it’s offered, whether it comes from a hometown boy or a stranger who has crossed lines to reach out to us or for us. We never know when, or from what direction, or through whom the good news of Christ will come to us and take better hold on this world.
On the Sabbath? Maybe. From a leader of the synagogue? Sure. Through a little girl given the power to stand up? Yup. Today? Tomorrow? Three weeks from now? From someone who has been hemorrhaging for years risks being healed? Or maybe from that person that reaches us the just after we shake the dust off and make ourselves open to something new.
The gospel is trying to make it in this world. And more than that, the darkness cannot ultimately overcome it. But there are days in which deeds of power are hard to come by. Just remember, dust can be shaken off and eventually, healing comes. Resurrection comes. Today or tomorrow or three weeks from now. Through us? Sometimes. Through others? Of course.
So wherever you are in this story, do the work of being present. Listen. Speak the truth in love. Share meals. Shake it off when you need to, and in all things, proclaim God’s love for all.