It is apparently not good to know Jesus too well. Familiarity is precisely what prevents the hometown crowd from hearing his message.
Jesus begins to preach the same message in his hometown that he had just given in Capernaum, where he had been received by throngs and had done amazing things, “great deeds of power” as Mark describes them.
We have been following the stories of Jesus healing, the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the calming of the wind and waves and the casting out of demons.
Jesus has left every place that he has visited so far with people wide eyed and open mouthed.
Despite asking people not to talk about what he has done, word about Jesus has spread far and wide, and even now to the hometown.
Jesus starts to talk to his hometown about the coming Kingdom of God. Many are “astounded,” Mark says, but not for the reason we might expect. An undercurrent of “where he has gotten this?” pervades the hometown audience.
These are people who know him too well!
They begin to say, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses? Aren’t his sisters here with us?”
In other words, “What makes him think he is so special?” Who does he think he is? We know who he is, he grew up here!
At first blush, it’s hard to understand how such thinking could take place among those who knew him so well, but then we simply have to look around us are realize how much skepticism pervades our own lives.
Narratives have a tendency to spin in social, political and familial circles, and we form our opinions and make our comments accordingly.
This is the 4th of July, and today of course we look at the signers of the Declaration of Independence as brave heroes, men endowed with peculiar vision or fortitude.
We forget that in 1776, each and every signer was a traitor to their country – which was at the time, England. Many of their neighbors, fellow colonists, and even family members viewed them as such!
We forget that in 1776, the thirteen colonies were not in universal agreement about this move for independence, and debate raged long and hard before compromise and pressure brought the parties to agreement.
One can well imagine in the taverns of Philadelphia a lively debate raging on all sides.
“Who does Jefferson think he is, writing ‘all men are created equal?’”
“What the heck are those idiots in the Continental Congress doing? Trying to get us all killed? Who deliberately provokes the British Empire or speaks against the King?”
The history of the Declaration of Independence is indeed rife with competing interests, old friends parting ways over decisions made and stances taken, families being split and loyalties questioned.
It should not surprise us then, that when Jesus begins to speak of the Kingdom of God – a re-ordering of the way this world works…with the people with whom he grew up, they would question where he had gotten these ideas and notions!
We are told that because of their unbelief, Jesus could do no deed of power there.
Which is not to say that he was not able to do anything!
We are told he laid hands on some who were sick and cured them – but what he could not do were “the deeds of power.”
We are told that Jesus was amazed at their unbelief, and that is saying quite something, because in all the places that Jesus traveled and preached, from Samaria to Jerusalem and even into the Gentile provinces of Tyre and Sidon, this is only place in the Gospel where Jesus encounters unbelief and is amazed by it!
Here, of all places, among his own hometown crowd, his people!
This Gospel troubles me because it runs head-on into the kind of piety that is so often lifted up as being seen as most desirable to us.
“Oh, if only you knew my Jesus.” I have heard people say. From the saccharine tone in their voice and the smile upon their face I can tell this is a genuine sentiment. They have a love for Jesus that empowers and emboldens them in a very personal way.
I do not want to say that this kind of piety is wrong. It is in fact a precious gift, the foundation from which many receive the strength of conviction that empowers them to move and act in response to their faith.
But still, this Gospel story seems to suggest that there is a certain danger in a piety of familiarity.
You can know Jesus too well!
Or, maybe better put…you can at least think you know him so well, — and maybe that is the danger. You think you know him so well that he can do “no deeds of power” in your midst!
That is not to say that Jesus may not be doing something in your midst. It just means that he may not be doing all that he could be doing.
Jesus might indeed be healing. He might be curing old wounds. He may be doing all of this, and still be amazed at the unbelief of those who think they know him.
This Gospel troubles me, because no matter what your piety, you may think you know who Jesus is too well, and because of that familiarity, you may be missing the deeds of power in your life and in your community that are needed.
What are those “deeds of power” according to the Gospels?
Deeds of power happen when Jesus directly confronts the powers that are opposed to God and to God’s Kingdom.
Deeds of power look like casting out demons.
Deeds of power look like radical acts of inclusion. They happen when someone who is identified as a sinner is forgiven and welcomed back, when someone who is unknown is called “daughter”, when the unclean is welcomed back into community.
Deeds of power happen when the one exiled from the community is shown a way to get back in.
Deeds of power are what the twelve do as they are sent out, for deeds of power seem to involve experiencing radical hospitality.
Who is it that will accept you into their house? – That is the one upon whom your peace is to reside. Who receives you and listens to you becomes a mark of a deed of power.
That may be a clue as why familiarity, why being too chummy with Jesus, can end up being a problem.
The hometown crowd knows the Jesus who grew up around them too well. “He can’t really be questioning us, can he? He can’t really be calling us to think about things in new ways? After all, he is the product of our community! What do we have to learn from him? We know him, he’s just like us!”
The people that I am just “chummy” with, those are the ones with whom I have a surface relationship. They rarely challenge me in my thinking or cause me to question my own actions.
We are so alike that we are so comfortable with things just the way they are, and we work hard to keep them just the way they have always been.
After all, most of us join a church because the people here are like us! They think the way I do! We have the same beliefs and convictions about things. Surely Jesus wouldn’t challenge long established beliefs and practices, — would he?
Have you read Jesus’ parables lately??
This is the danger of thinking we know Jesus too well!
Being “chummy” with Jesus can take all the power out of him, all the “bite” out of his parables, and all the “sting” out of his observations, all the uncomfortable calls he makes upon our lives.
Jesus has the power to transform lives, but to do so he challenges long held beliefs and brings into question treasured assumptions.
The Kingdom of God that Jesus comes to proclaim bears little resemblance to the way this world works or is ordered. That’s what the disciples learn as he commissions them and sends them out.
He strips from them everything they think they need. They get no tunic, no “outer wrap” that would serve as a blanket to sleep outside, no money, and no extra food. They are therefore compelled to interact with others, to become totally dependent upon the hospitality of complete strangers.
There is power in that.
There is a kind of power that comes from learning to trusting in a Lord who promises to be there for us, and to provide grace sufficient for this day.
There is also a kind of power that comes in having to live in someone else’s house, to walk in someone else’s sandals, and to see the world from someone else’s perspective. There is a kind of power that comes from receiving what it is that they have to share with you, the world that they know, the one that they live in.
The Kingdom of God as Jesus describes it bears little resemblance to the life we hold to so tightly in this world.
In the Kingdom, there will be justice, and true equality, and that often involves the rearranging of priorities and the examining of what life is like of others.
In the Kingdom, the lines of separation in this world that we with our voices say are wrong, but with our practices and inclinations still tend to uphold; will finally be swept away.
That probably won’t be very comfortable for everyone as it unfolds.
You see why I am troubled by this story?
I would much rather have a chummy relationship with a Jesus that is everything that I expected him to be. The hometown boy who does good and now wants to share all that he has with us. That would be comfortable.
But Jesus has designs and desires on this world that are not exclusively concerned with my comfort.
I do not know if I want a Jesus who has deeds of power in mind when it comes to me and to my community.
Am I ready to drop some of my long-held convictions if he shows me another way?
Am I ready to “go” if he tells me to drop everything and experience the deeds of power in his name that come by accepting the hospitality of those whom I do not yet know or trust? Dare to see the world as they see it, and work toward a better world together?
Have I become too familiar with Jesus, expecting him to only act in certain ways, and to only support my set of views, my own way of thinking?
If so, is he amazed that I can know him so well, and yet be filled with unbelief that the world can change because of him?”
These are the things that trouble me today as I read this. Do they trouble you? And if so, are you ready for his “Deeds of Power” when they come into your community?