In Your Backpack

In your backpack …

July 7th 2024

Mark is very clear about the where and when in today's gospel. The day is the sabbath, the place is Jesus home synagogue in Nazareth and He is guest superstar preacher for the day. Many are amazed at what he has to offer. It’s all going so very well and I’d love to have a copy of his homily so I could use it next Sunday. But we’re not told what he said, we‘re only told the people's reaction. After the initial excitement, however, something shifts. The folk begin to ask heckling questions.

“Where did this man get these things?” “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?  Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?”

It seems that The Master's teaching is almost too good to be true. A local lad could not possibly preach this well. Jesus slumps in the opinion polls as preferred rabbi and “they took offence at him”.

The Master is amazed at their lack of faith and because miracles always happen within the context of faith, Jesus could not do any miracles there. His ministry is limited to the laying on of hands and healing a few.

So what went wrong? The Master knows and explains

“A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home”

It would seem that the divine is hidden by the familiar. They know Jesus from days of yore, they know his background and his family. Indeed they accurately list His family tree. This common, everyday appearance is all that the locals can see. For them, this sabbath was a transactional event. They came expecting one thing and were offered something else. They felt cheated and disappointed. This is not what we came to synagogue for.

And there is a message here for the way we look at our global family, our national family, our state family, our nuclear family and our parish family. Is it not possible that miracle workers and healers are walking amongst us? As we trip to the altar we can so easily forget who it is that is with us and who it is that is there to meet us and give himself to us. This is my body, given for … you… With angels and arch angels. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. It's all there and real. And because we say it time after time we must continuously remind ourselves that it is not just a statement of belief, but a living reality that surrounds us, engulfs us, lives within us and is part of our daily lives. Inside and outside the church building. The familiar can very easily deceive us.

But the second part of the gospel also gives us a few clues about how to see more clearly.

Notice the meagre provisions that the Teacher of Nazareth asks his disciples to pack … or rather …not to pack.

“Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.  Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.”

It’s the barest, most minimalist list you could imagine and it invites the prospective disciple to carry a huge amount of trust, hope and faith.

But there is a certain delicious freedom in this paucity of property. What we do not take on the journey are things like the burdens of doubt, the rocks of prejudice, the bully of fear and the intolerable burden of sin which God has forgotten about but which we insist on lumbering around with us at every agonising step. And each morning the temptation is to load up our back pack with the baggage we carried around yesterday. And that can be difficult, especially when it is the hard rejection or hurt by our own ‘locals’.

This is not the itinerant preacher who has a fabulous marketing strategy and a 10-point plan for the business to grow exponentially illustrated on PowerPoint slides with colour-coded graphs and pie charts. No, there is something quite different going on here. Jesus is something else and he is someone else. It would have been so much easier if he revealed himself in the spectacular, the dazzling and the sparkling instead of the familiar and ordinary, the bread, the wine, the water, the oil,  the grey hair and large dollops of silence.

Walter Brueggemann captured this sense of the bewildering preacher who asks us to pack nothing but his freedom. We should let Walter have the last word today.

We would as soon you were stable and reliable.
We would as soon you were predictable
and always the same toward us.
We would like to take the hammer of doctrine
and take the nails of piety
and nail your feet to the floor
and have you stay in one place.

And then we find you moving,
always surprising us,
always coming at us from new directions.
Always planting us
and uprooting us
and tearing all things down
and making all things new.
You are not the God we would have chosen
had we done the choosing,
but we are your people
and you have chosen us in freedom.
We pray for the great gift of freedom
that we may be free toward you
as you are in your world.
Give us that gift of freedom
that we may move in new places
in obedience and in gratitude.

Posted in Home Page.