Sermon for July 8, 2012 || Proper 9 Year B || Mark 6: 1-13 ||
The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
Jesus has just returned home, and it’s like the life has been sucked right out of him. “He could do no deed of power there,” Mark tells us.
Seriously? How is this possible? This is the same Jesus who in five breathless chapters of Mark’s gospel has already fought Satan in the wilderness and won, cured everyone from Peter’s mother-in-law, a leper, and a paralytic, to a man with a withered hand and a woman who’s been hemorrhaging for 12 years. He’s been casting out unclean spirits and exorcising demons by the score, healing the masses and the multitudes everywhere he goes, and he just finished miraculously raising a young girl from the dead.
And now, all of a sudden, he is powerless! Really?
See, if you’re at all like me, you find this whole idea that Jesus couldn’t do any miraculous deeds of power as scandalous and offensive as his family and hometown folks found the idea that he could. And maybe like me, you squirm –at least a little– at all those places in the gospels where Jesus is just too dang human for our comfort: like when he loses his temper in the temple, overturns tables and shouts at people who are, after all, only doing their jobs; or when he refuses to heal a woman’s daughter simply because she’s a gentile—until she persists so much he finally caves in. Or during Holy Week, when you know only too well that despite his divinity, Jesus is suffering the same unbearable pain that you or I would suffer under the merciless lashing and scouring of the Roman soldiers. And then of course there’s the physical, emotional and spiritual agony of the cross and all it represents. “My God, my God, why have you forgotten me?”
So what if what we’re seeing in this morning’s gospel is exactly like that—a glimpse of Jesus’ all too real human nature? What if Jesus is so hurt and so devastated from being utterly scorned and rejected by his own family and the village that raised him, that at least temporarily, it has sucked the life right out of him? What if the powerful emotions he is feeling hurt so much, that for now his focus has turned in on himself in such a way that he no longer has the energy or the interest in helping others that he once had? Maybe Jesus just doesn’t have it in him right now. Maybe he is so gob-smacked by this unanticipated un-belief, and the pain of rejection, that he just needs some time to lick his wounds and re-center himself before he can dust off his feet and go on…
Now I know this might sound heretical to some of us—it was pretty challenging getting here myself– but the truth is that as uncomfortable as some of us are when confronted with the less flattering bits of Jesus’ humanity, it’s when we deny his human nature that we’re actually being heretical! It’s even got a fancy name: “Monophysitism.” (That’s the name for the 5th century heresy that denied the true human nature of Christ, and claimed he could only be divine.)
So I want to invite you this morning to at least consider the possibility that in fact—as scandalous as it sounds– Jesus really couldn’t do any great deeds of power when he came home. Not because his power depended on some magic formula for which the faith of others was the prime ingredient—to believe that really would be heretical–but merely because Jesus was a human being and he was a human being who hurt. And because when human beings are hurt, it’s natural for us to focus on ourselves, rather than others. It’s human nature.
So instead of healing folks and casting out demons, Mark tells us that Jesus gave his disciples authority over unclean spirits, and sent them out as his apostles, where “They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” Jesus relied on them to do his work! He shared the burden. Meanwhile, Jesus went about the villages teaching—but notice that we have no reports of his working any more great deeds of power…
Not until two weeks from now, when we will read about how the disciples return from their various journeys, and Jesus calls them away to a deserted place to rest for a while. But it turns out that when they get there, word has already spread, and a huge crowd is waiting for them, and—do you remember what happens?
Jesus has compassion on them….literally, he suffers with them. And suddenly it’s like his life has been restored.
Jesus turns outward again, his focus is on others, and the next thing we know he’s miraculously feeding the five thousand! Then he feeds his own soul in solitary prayer, walks across the water to catch up with his disciples, and gets on about his mission of teaching, and healing, and serving God’s people. Jesus, too, is healed.
Now, I have to admit that try as I might, I couldn’t find any experts to corroborate this interpretation of today’s gospel. So I don’t know if it’s a legitimate one, or a plausible one, or even a fair one. But I do know that Jesus still can’t do it all. I do know that he sends each of us out to do his work and relies on us to do it. And I know that when we are hurting—no matter what the cause– there is no better cure for what pains us than the one Jesus models: relying on others to share our burdens, making time for prayer to feed our souls, and focusing our energy outward –on helping others.
This is how Jesus served God’s mission. It’s how we’re called to serve God’s mission, too. And it’s been known to work miracles. Amen.