Proper 9B: Mark 6:1-13 (Ezekiel 2:1-5, 2 Cor. 12:1-10)
People like to take offense. No one wants to admit it, but we spend a lot of time looking for things that offend us. When something or someone offends then we can attack it, criticize them, mock them, and put them down. Usually because it attacks some notion of what we want in life and hits home a little in scandalizing our life as we would see fit.
What we hear in today’s Gospel is that people take offense at Jesus. The word truly means they were scandalized by Him. And everyone is talking about and following Jesus. Not in the popular fanfare we often like to imagine people in the New Testament following, but perplexed, watching, and taking offense. Perhaps we should take note of that. People have always been taking offense at Jesus. You see, much like today, Jesus scandalized everyone.
It was really nothing new. People have always taken offense at the Word of God, particularly in the Word made flesh. We marvel today at how people have rejected God’s Word, His Word concerning human life within the womb, His Word concerning creation, His Word which defines marriage, His Word which calls to the gifts of the cross given in Word and Sacrament, and yet it’s nothing new.
Ezekiel went to a nation of rebels, of those who had rejected the faith handed down to them. He went to people who were impudent, brazenly immodest, and stubborn, unmoving in their views. Christians are often accused of being stubborn, but truly the Christian is not as the Christian is one whose view is always changing. As we live and see all matters of sin we are led to repent, to change our hearts and minds and flee from such sin.
Ezekiel went to people who delighted in their sin, who did not want to be called to repentance but wanted to be affirmed in their sin. Ezekiel was sent out by the Lord to proclaim His Word. “And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.” This Word may not have been exactly what the people wanted to hear, but it was God’s Word. God’s Word was rejected by the people; they were scandalized by His Word.
To understand this scandal of Jesus though, we should understand what kind of scandal it was. The people of Nazareth took offense, yes. They stumbled, yes. But this scandalizing was worse in unbelief. Jesus did not marvel at how sensitive and offended His hometown people were. He marveled at their unbelief.
At the beginning of His Galilean ministry, Mark writes, “Jesus came . . . preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’” Mark writes that when Jesus sent out His disciples in pairs to proclaim the coming of God’s kingdom, “they went out and preached that men should repent.”
Most assuredly, Jesus’ message in the synagogue that day was along the same line as these other records of His preaching and teaching: people are sinful and need to repent; Jesus, who is God Himself, is the Messiah and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy; through Him only comes redemption and salvation. But of course, His teaching and preaching is not what the sinful human heart wants to hear.
The real problem was they knew Jesus. He was local boy who made it good. Some of them remember when the child and His family moved to town from Egypt. They even knew the origin of His birth, pointing out that He’s Mary’s son which usually one would be call the son of their father, thus pointing out the questionable birth record. He was merely a carpenter. They were very impressed by His wisdom, but they denied the truth of His teaching and rejected Him as the Messiah.
Only in his hometown, is a prophet without honor, Jesus said. Familiarity breeds contempt, especially when it comes to holy things. We who are lifelong Christians, and especially “lifer Lutherans,” might confess an honest word about that. We are all too often like that Nazareth congregation. We’ve grown up around holy things. We’ve known the Scriptures from our infancy. Our ears are accustomed to the sound of sins being forgiven. Our tongues are liturgically disciplined to pray, praise and give thanks. We easily take our place at the Supper of Christ’s body and blood. Yet we just as easily skip it when it isn’t convenient, when we had a late night of fireworks and partying, or “we have better things to do on a Sunday morning.”
What scandalized them, and the world, and even you and me at times, is the ordinariness, the weakness, the everydayness of Jesus. The Word of Christ is not what we, as sinful human beings, want to hear. We want to hear a message that motivates us, that if only we try hard enough we can achieve our goals and overcome all of life’s obstacles. We want to hear a message that encourages and compels us to strive for the best in ourselves so that we can achieve success and win for ourselves a life full of joy and satisfaction. We want to hear a message that pumps us up and makes us feel good about ourselves and our accomplishments, focusing upon our successes and not upon our failures and shortcomings.
When God appears to save the world, we expect Superman, or some larger than life figure – not a carpenter from Nazareth. He was the uncommonly common God-man whom they called the carpenter. He came for those who are ashamed of the ordinary and who need help with their unbelief. He came to call me to a life of repentance and faith. He came to forgive my judging, rejecting, rebellious heart. He came calling you to a life of repentance and faith. He came to forgive your judging, rejecting, rebellious heart. He came speaking words of life to a dying world that thinks it can pursue life its own way.
Where did this man get these things, that is, these gifts of forgiveness and life? As God He had them from all eternity. But as man He received them as He took on flesh in Mary’s womb. You see, the Son of God, the One who built the world, really is Mary’s son, knit together in her virgin womb. He got those gifts of life from on high, for the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him bodily.
It’s easy to be scandalized, offended and generally mislead if you trust your eyes rather than God’s word when it comes to eternal things. We do precisely the same thing. We trust our eyes over our ears, what we see over what God says. We question God’s goodness, mercy, power when we encounter our own weaknesses, the insults of others, hardships, calamities, persecutions. Or when our repeated prayers go unanswered and are greeted with “my grace is sufficient for you.”
“When I am weak, then I am strong.” That’s the paradox of the cross. It’s the emblem of Christianity. The death of Jesus as the sign of your life. The glorious hidden power of God, a power made perfect in suffering and weakness, a power that conquers sin by becoming sin, that conquers death by becoming death, a power that cries out “My God, my God why have you forsaken me” and still prays into the dark silence trusting that His grace is sufficient.
God’s grace in Christ is sufficient for you. It’s all you need. If all the God ever did for you is send His Son to die on a cross, if all Jesus ever does for you is baptize you, forgive you, and give you His Body and Blood, that is sufficient for you. It overcomes your sin, your death, the devil, the world, your own Sin-filled flesh. Yes, the miracles are nice, the little answered prayers are a delight but they can also be a distraction for they are not eternal life and salvation.
It’s easy to stumble when you trust your eyes. It’s easy to be scandalized by God when your eyes are wide open but your ears are shut. When it comes to God, what you see is not what you get. What you see is weakness, what you get is power. What you see is death, what you get is life. What you see is sin, what you get is forgiveness. What you see is defeat, what you get is victory. What you see is a man in a goofy gown, what you get is the Word of Christ that forgives. What you see is bread and wine, what you get is the body and blood of Him whose hands worked the wood that were spiked to the cross given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus said that “a prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” Yet by Jesus’ rejection at the hands of men, we are saved. Isaiah prophesied about Jesus Christ: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (53:3) Jesus’ rejection in His hometown was just a foreshadowing of His final rejection – the one that killed Him. His carpentry work gave way to crucifixion work that is still building His Church today.
These are things people take offense at, insult, and attack. “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36). When it comes to God, it’s not what you see but what you hear. Hear the Word of the Lord. It is a Word that continues to be preached. It is the Word made flesh meant to be given and shared, amongst your family, in this community, and throughout the world. Even as the call to repentance and faith is rejected it is proclaimed and received elsewhere. Those who rejected Jesus were also sick, but refused to see it thus refusing the life and healing He brings. The Word which continues by the Spirit to speak, to bringing life and healing is the same Word made flesh that gives you Himself as your life and your strength.
In the name of the Father and of + the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.