Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 8, 2018
Jesus Sets the Pattern for the Church of Rejection
As you recall from last week, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee and healed the woman of her long-time problem and raised Jairus’s daughter from death. Mark then tells us that He made His way to His own hometown, indicating Nazareth, where He grew up and attended synagogue. It was the place where everybody would recognize Him. And so we see from the text that they did recognize Him. They see that He is Mary’s son, and they know His brothers and sisters. And they take offense at Him. It is not because they know Him, that they take offense, but it is because of what He does and says that they take offense. The Greek word that is translated as “took offense” is skandilidzo, which carries is where we get our English word scandalize. It carries a strong sense of causing one to sin.
What is it that causes scandalous behavior? We would associate it with immoral behavior even it isn’t illegal. In our world, what used to be scandalous has become so mundane and accepted that in many ways we probably are not scandalized as we should be. We generally associate it with presidents and people of authority. Collusion with the enemy would be scandalous for most. Adultery would be scandalous for many. Braggadociosness is not scandalous for many. For the people of Nazareth, it was the self-acclaim of Jesus at which they took offense. It was what He said and did that set Him apart from His relatives and put Him above His upbringing that scandalized them.
During this period of time, the synagogue was not the location of worship. That was the temple in Jerusalem. The synagogue arose as a place of instruction and meeting. It was where the young were catechized or taught the Scriptures. It was where the Scriptures were discussed and argued within the community. The did not have a clergyperson called a rabbi as we understand it today. A scribe, whose vocation was to transcribe and know the Scriptures well would often be a leader in a synagogue, but even then, he would not normally be an original thinker. He would stick to what the scholars had written. He would teach established doctrine and would not venture into new ways of looking at the text or innovative ways of interpreting the Scriptures.
This is all fine and good. We would agree that that is a safe approach and prudent for the meaning of God’s Word does not change with the times or the situation. It is one of the reasons that we are a creedal Church. It was true two thousand years ago and it is still true today. So, while the scribe was a recognized leader in the synagogue, it did not mean that he was the only one that taught. And as we know, Jesus taught often in synagogues. But what Jesus taught seemed innovative to many. As He interpreted the Scriptures for others and revealed how they spoke of Him and pointed all to Him, it was not easily accepted, especially by those that had known Him most all His life.
For those people of Nazareth, Jesus was braggadocios. He thought very highly of Himself as He claimed Himself to be a prophet and more. The parallel to this account in Luke’s Gospel has Jesus reading the Isaiah scroll and telling everybody that the reading was fulfilled in their hearing and as a result, they tried to through Him off a cliff. The sense of this is revealed in our reading as Mark record’s the collective comment of the people, “Where did this man get these things?” In other words, “Who does he think he is?” He sat in their synagogue and taught “new” things. He taught differently than they were used to and He didn’t have any special training. He was departing from their orthodoxy and what had been established among them as normative theology. He was breaking with their tradition, or so they thought.
We are all taught to be all that we can be; that we can achieve anything. We are recognized and commended for doing more than is expected of us. But if we are perceived as presenting ourselves better than everybody else, a know-it-all, or uppity, even our families begin to distance themselves. How would it go over if you claimed to be the fulfillment of Scripture? That would cause a little sin in your household too, wouldn’t it? It doesn’t matter a lick if everybody in another state believes you, your hometown will be suspect and so was Nazareth of Jesus.
Their doubts were so strong that they could not receive His teaching or His miracles. As our text reads, “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.” We should contrast this with the remarkable faith of Jairus and the woman with the flow of blood. The woman’s faith didn’t even require the express knowledge of Jesus. He didn’t need to lay His hands on her or do anything other than be present. But here, in Nazareth, unbelief prevented her citizens from receiving the blessings of healing and salvation even though He walked among them and lived among them. The very people that Jesus knew the best and the ones that could easily have had access to Him, didn’t want what He was offering. Their unbelief was such that even Jesus marveled at it.
These actions of Jesus reveal a man that is sure not braggadocios. He sets the pattern for His ministry of servanthood; of teaching the truth, offering healing and cleansing where it can be received, and of quietly suffering at the hands of those that hate Him. It is a pattern that St. Paul writes about in our epistle reading. It is the pattern that Jesus sets for His disciples as He sends them out in pairs. They would be accepted by some and rejected by some. Where their teaching is accepted, remain. Where their authority is recognized, cast out demons, where it is not, shake the dust off as a witness to them that they have not rejected just a man, but they have rejected divine authority given to men.
Mark doesn’t go into detail, but it can be presumed that the disciples had their fair share of rejection on this missionary journey. But he does record what happened along the way. He records the things that they did that follows the pattern of the ministry of Jesus. They proclaimed repentance. They cast out demons. They anointed the sick and healed them. It was a ministry of Word and Sacrament. It is the pattern that the Church continues today with some believing and some indignant, taking offense at the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We could talk about other people’s scandals all day long. Our tabloids are filled with them. Our days are filled with disgust over other people’s actions. But what scandalizes you? Are you scandalized by Jesus or by the preaching of the Scriptures? Are you scandalized by the ministry of the Church that declares you to be clean and whole? In one sense, you should be scandalized by what is preached. Even St. Paul writes of how he would not even be aware of his sin were it not for the Law (Ro 7:7). We should, every one of us be scandalized by the preaching of the Law. It reveals our thoughts and actions for what they are outside of Christ – sinful and unclean. This application of God’s Word is meant to scandalize us, but the fulfiller of the Law, Jesus Christ, is meant to save us. The preaching of the Gospel and the offer of the forgiveness of those sins is meant to be received through faith and is intended save.
This Gospel, however, offends against the flesh that wants so badly to be independent and sufficient on its own. It offends against that thing deep down inside, known as original sin, that wants no authority, seeks no God, and desires only to be left wallowing in its filth. It is a wonder than any of us believes and is lifted above scandal. It is a miracle that anybody that knows what it means to be human in this fallen world would look to the man raised in Nazareth and crucified for what He says and then trust that He can raise us from death. It is remarkable.
But Jesus speaks within His authority, for He spoke all that the Father had given Him to say (Jn 12:49). And the disciples spoke within their authority as it was given to them by Jesus as they were sent. And so it with this same authority that the Church continues to speak that sinners may be scandalized and saints emerge believing their sins are forgiven for the sake of He who died for them and was raised for their justification. That is, that Jesus of Nazareth, died for your scandalous sins and was raised that you may live free of scandal before God.
The peace which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.