Trinity 5: They took offence at Him
Mark 6. 1-13
Jesus had become famous for His miracles and His teaching. One day He returned to His hometown, to Nazareth, and He began to teach in the synagogue. But the people there were not impressed. They took offence at Him.
The French novelist Francois Mauriac wrote in his life of Jesus: “It is baffling to record that, for a period of thirty years, the Son of Man did not appear to be anything other than a man”.
So when He comes back to where He’d lived all those years, the people who lived with him thought they knew him. What they thought they knew was that He was just a carpenter. He had made their tables and chairs. They know His family. They know His mother. And it’s as if they had seen Him driving round in His white van, and made Him cups of builder’s tea. When He steps outside the role they had fixed for him, they put him down as just a workman, just a man.
They stop listening to His teaching and start asking questions: “Where did he get this wisdom? He’s ignorant. He hasn’t studied; we know him; he’s the carpenter, the son of Mary!”
And they took offense at him, that is, they thought they knew Him and so they didn’t believe in Him.
Who does He think He is?
Jesus responds with bitter words: A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.
Perhaps His words are a kind of warning for us.
We could make the same mistake as the Nazarenes!
Because in a certain sense, Jesus returns to His own country every time his Gospel is proclaimed in countries like England, countries which were, at one time, the cradle of Christianity.
Strange as it may seem even London was once a Christian city. For example it was famous for the harmony of its church bells, which young people loved to ring. It is said that in her old age Queen Elizabeth I loved to listen to them, considering them a sign of the health of her people.
England and Europe are for Christianity, what Nazareth was for Jesus: the place where he grew up. (Christianity was born in the Middle East but grew up in Europe, a bit like Jesus who was born in Bethlehem but grew up in Nazareth!)
But today so many around us in England and in Europe seem to be making the same mistake as the Nazarenes: the mistake of not recognizing Who Jesus is.
It’s as if we too come from Nazareth, from a place where people take offence at Jesus and give Him no honor.
So many English people seem to think that they know all about Jesus. Christianity is familiar to them. That familiarity has bred contempt, the contempt for Christians expressed in the media. And so they don’t believe in Him.
Jesus leaves us free to disbelieve; he proposes his gifts, but He will not impose them. Remember Holman Hunt’s famous painting of Jesus as the Light of the World that’s in the vestry. He is standing outside the door and knocking. And the door is without a latch. The door of our heart can only be opened from the inside. The decision to admit Him into our hearts has to be ours.
That day in Nazareth, in face of this rejection, Jesus did not threaten or condemn anyone.
His attitude is the completely different from that of Scipio Africanus, the Roman general who defeated Hannibal. His political enemies later accused him of corruption. And so after his death he made sure that he was buried outside the territory of Rome with this inscription on his tomb: “Thankless country, thou shalt not possess even my bones”.
Jesus’ attitude to Nazareth is different. He simply goes on to another place.
Another time, the people of a certain village did not receive Him. His disciples are indignant. They ask Him is He wants them to call fire be down from heaven to destroy them - but Jesus turns and rebukes them.
That is also how He acts in Nazareth in the Gospel today.
God seems to have far more respect for our freedom than we have for one each other’s sometimes. But this creates a great responsibility.
St. Augustine wrote: “I fear that Jesus will go by and He will not come back.”
Jesus is a reality that must be caught as it passes, a reality that must carry us away with it.
He might pass by without my realizing it. He might pass by without my being ready to receive him. And so I might lose His grace if I cease to watch and pray.
Saint Mark says succinctly that, having arrived in Nazareth on the Sabbath, Jesus began to teach in the synagogue. The Gospel of Luke also tells us what he taught on that Sabbath. He said he had come to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
This is the grace our nation is in danger of losing just like the people of Nazareth in our Gospel today. This is the grace we too are in danger of losing if we conform to the world, if we go with the flow.
A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.
But we can honor Christ together; we can receive Him here in the place where He grew up, even now in the midst of those who are offended by Him. We can receive His grace.
We can do this by simply remembering what comes first in the life of every baptized person: to seek Christ and put nothing before his love.
So may He lead us altogether to life everlasting. Amen.
The Rev'd Dr James Lawson, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 04/07/2021