Gracious God, give us the will to serve others as Christ was the servant of all, who gave up his life and died for us, Amen
This has been difficult week in BC. First with the extreme weather which caused many deaths and then the wildfires, especially the one which destroyed most of the village of Lytton. Our thoughts and prayers are with all who have suffered in a variety of ways, especially those who have died and their loved ones who mourn their loss. And we continue to be concerned for the fire danger across the Province as hot and dry weather causes fires to burn out of control and threaten lives and property.
In our gospel passage today we move on from the dramatic healing of the woman and the daughter of Jairus last week; as the narrative changes gears.
Jesus comes to his hometown, Nazareth, with his disciples. As a teacher, he is invited to teach on the Sabbath, in the synagogue. We are told ‘… many who heard him were astounded’.
So far so good. But then the mood changes, there is backtalk or gossip going on (which of course happens in all human gatherings). There is whispering about Jesus, asking where he had got all this (wisdom) from, and asking what deeds of power are being done by his hands! Mark says: ‘Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary’ and the text says and ‘they took offence at him’.
In other words we begin to see the first opposition to Jesus, who in the eighth chapter will turn his face to Jerusalem and inform the disciples of his ultimate mission: to suffer, be rejected and killed.
Jesus says this ‘prophets are not without honour except in their own town ... Then we are told ‘he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. He was amazed at their unbelief.’
So what does Jesus do: he simply gets on with the work he was called to do ‘he went about among the villages teaching’. He didn’t sit there feeling sorry for himself, he didn’t complain to the disciples about the people, he got on with the work in hand. Better still as the leader of the group he sent out the disciples, two by two, giving them authority over unclean spirits.
Jesus told his disciples to travel light and to remain only where they were welcome, or else to shake the dust off their feet.
So, we are told they went out and proclaimed ... cast out many demons ... anointed with old many who were sick and cured them.
So the hometown rejection of Jesus is the first part of this reading quickly changes in the second half to inform us of how Jesus put all this on one side and started in earnest to send out the disciples to begin their own ministries. It has been suggested that perhaps it was the rejection that provided Jesus with the determination to have the disciples begin to take up with own roles in his work. Since they had been chosen the disciples had been preparing for this role and of course by sending them out at this moment he was letting them understand that they too would receive a rejection. Jesus wanted the disciples to be clear about what they were doing, but also to know that their work would be hard and they would face opposition and more.
Only Mark mentions that the disciples were told to take a staff and wear sandals. It may be that this implies their journey, like that of Jesus himself, would require preparation and endurance.
The passage also tells us the mission was to be based in households; again this was following on from how Jesus had moved from place to place, relying on the hospitality of those whom he encountered and were drawn to his message. In other words the synagogue (as we understand from this very passage) was less and less seen as a fruit place to proclaim the good news, not least because they were centres with established religious traditions and authorities and therefore we not expected to be open to new ways of thinking about God.
Jesus is, matter of fact, with the disciples: they would face rejection and so they should be ready to ‘shake the dust off their feet’; in other words, not to dwell in a place where they were rejected, but move on to new places and new people who might be ready to hear the message.
We receive some interesting insights in this passage of the trials and tribulations of ministry. It is not all plain sailing; we will be rejected by some for what we say or what we do. Jesus encourages us to see this as part of the cost of discipleship. For if Jesus himself faced opposition, and in his hometown especially, and warns the disciples to expect the same treatment, why would our experience be any different? And the more seasoned we are in life, as well as in our Christian journeys, the more we come to be accepting of such challenges. For ministry, in whatever shape it takes, never goes entirely to plan, there are setbacks, there are disappointments; there are tough times. When we take this to heart and recognise the reality of life, which always has its challenges too, we can be realistic as well as optimistic. For when we trust in God, when we work together we can achieve wonderful things. When Jesus gave up his life for us, we can surely be willing to offer to serve him, willing, openly heartedly, and with joy.