Who is this guy???
Listen (below) or read on for my sermon on Mark 6:1-15
Pentecost 6 B- Hope Lutheran Church- July 8, 2018
It was a tragic story. In 2006 a university van carrying nine students collided with a semi truck. Give young people died that day. Among them a young woman with long blonde hair and blue eyes identified as Whitney. Four survived, among them a young woman with long blonde hair and blue eyes, identified as Laura. Whitney’s family went through all the proper responses. The burial of their beloved daughter was well attended with over 1400 mourners present. Their grief and distress was not eased by news of some surviving because for them, Whitney was gone.
Laura’s family on the other hand held vigil at the hospital. They had been warned before seeing her of the injuries which included severe head trauma. Coma was to be expected along with difficulty communicating. They were shocked to realize Laura had gotten a belly button ring, but not angry. How can you be angry with your child when they have barely escaped death? Still, there were inconsistencies- but how do you question if your child is not your child? The nurses and doctors assured them it was the trauma making things confusing for Laura, until one day a nurse brought a whiteboard and asked the young woman in the bed to write down her name. Whitney. Not Laura.
She had been in front of them and they had not known her- because she was not who they thought she was. But they let themselves believe the mistaken identity in order to cling to the life given to them.
For one family the mistaken identity brought death. For the other it delivered life.
The entire Gospel of Mark seems to be a question of identity for Jesus. Even he acknowledges that there is confusion. “who do you say that I am?” is tossed around like a beach ball at a pool party. And of course, Jesus doesn’t help this much by continually telling those who are with him not to go and tell what they saw.
But this is Jesus hometown! Surely they knew him, yeah? How big could Nazareth have been? We know it was considered a backwoods size town, one of no repute. The likely population of about 400 meant that everyone knew everyone.
Yet here they stand, unsure of themselves when Jesus returns to preach and teach. Something doesn’t match up for them. “Who is this guy?”
He healed a few folks, but in the end, left for other villages where he was welcomed more warmly and along the way, he tells the disciples that they should do the same when they go out. If they are not welcomed, even in their hometowns, they should leave and not even the dust of the town should remain with them.
The people of his hometown knew the snotty little kid, the pimply faced teenager-not this man who has quiet confidence and can heal people. But this guy? This guy has a full on entourage! How can this be the Jesus they knew? In their inability to see Jesus as anything more than just the same old guy he always was cost them.
Isn’t that the way of things though? When we are more willing to talk than to listen, more willing to hold to our frame of thought and not hear another person out, when we are unable to consider a new way of thinking or doing things we lose out. If the people of Nazareth had questioned, that would be normal, but when given the opportunity to see and know Jesus as the Messiah, they ignored the proof before their eyes and it cost them everything.
It does not cost anything but ego and time to listen to a different way of thinking, believing, or even doing things in the world. It may provide exciting new areas of growth, commonality, and even closer community. It could provide life to just listen and consider.
There is a motif that runs through the Gospels called the Messianic Secret. It is a slightly outdated idea that is centered on the idea that Christ could not be known as the Messiah until after his resurrection proved it. It is fascinating to read up on, but when considered differently takes on a powerful impact for us. Initially introduced in the 1920’s, it argued that there were lots of false messiah’s and there was a xenophobic and nationalistic expectation of what a messiah would look and act like at this point. This explains the rapid turn of events during the passion week when one day Jesus is welcomed in with waving palms and cloaks thrown over the road to pad his way, and a short time later has crowds screaming for his death. They thought he was coming to literally take over Roman rulers. But that isn’t who Jesus is. The Messianic Secret also argued that it was a way to protect Jesus from his enemies. But none of this stands up very well in the bright theological lens of scrutiny. However, when we consider another way of thinking, it finds firm ground.
What if Jesus didn’t want people to point at him and identify him and look at him, as much as people to accompany him, to live with and like him in a way that does not allow for pointing him out as different? My colleague D. Mark Davis wonders if it is not a redirection of the reign of God- rather than something we observe, it becomes something we participate in.
He argues, “As long as they had the Messiah to embody the reign, they were missing the participation part. To ‘follow’ is not to point to, observe, marvel, coronate, or even profess. It is more about joining along, taking up the message, indeed taking up the cross that is central to the message, and “believing” by living in the present reign of God. It is healing the sick, delivering those who are oppressed, etc…Mark saw Jesus trying to re-direct his message away from himself and toward following-as-participating.”
And that is where his hometown just could not get in on the action. For whatever their reasons, they couldn’t participate with Jesus. For them, the idea of changing they way they lived and participated in the world was not an option. It was too scary and hard. So they denied him and his offer to live a new commandment of loving one another in radical hospitality.
And he told the disciples, that is ok. When that happens, and it will happen, just walk away. Don’t force the issue. Don’t argue and stay until communication is completely broken down. Don’t push and try to force someone to hear you. He said, “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.”
In a world of heated sharing, it can be hard to consider another’s point of view, let alone listen to it at all. It can be even harder when listening and considering may reveal truth and may mean that we can change who we identify ourselves as and how we do things.
Maybe, we, like the people of Nazareth, and Laura and Whitney’s parents, need to consider that the person in front of us is not who we think they are either. What if we stopped seeing them as “ours” our enemy, our friend, etc. and instead as God’s; a precious child of God who is trying to participate in the reign of God and radical hospitality of Christ here and now in their own way.
Jesus Christ is not just some guy. He was the Messiah, he is our risen savior, who calls us not to point and say, “Hey, that is my Jesus.” He offers to teach and show us, to let us listen and learn by walking with him, doing the work, preaching and living the gospel here and now in our daily lives. It begins with listening, but it continues with being.
Confusing Jesus as some great person to read about and talk about but not to actively follow is a deadly case of mistaken identity not for Christ, but for us. If you are a Christian, then be one. Live into your true identity as a child of God and heir to the kingdom and reign that begins here and now. Go out and proclaim the gospel. Heal the sick, comfort the poor and lonely, feed the hungry, and wherever you are welcomed, share the promise of eternal life in Christ with hospitality and love that knows no measure.