Letting Jesus Be Jesus
Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Sundays
He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offence at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief.
And he went about among the villages teaching.
And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.” (Mark 6:1–13)
You can imagine the scene. Jesus is going back home, and with him are his disciples. He is by now a well known figure, someone whose teaching has been attracting attention and whose miracles have given pause for thought. Once just the carpenter, Jesus is now known in his own right as a religious leader. Perhaps that’s why he was invited to teach in the synagogue on that Sabbath. Some sort of homecoming celebration.
As he stood and talked, and the others sat and listened, astonishment begins to grow. “Where did this man get these things” they wonder. What is this teaching? How on earth can he do all these things? Rather than a great homecoming, the mood turns sour with mutterings. He’s just a carpenter’s son! What an upstart! We know his family - look, his sisters are over there!
And they took offence at him. Took offence at this one who they had watched grow up. Such was their mistrust that Jesus “could do no mighty work there”. In fact he “marvelled because of their unbelief”.
What went wrong? Well, something that can go wrong with us too. They could not look past the human face of Jesus. They simply knew him too well.
You can see how this happened. They had grown up with him, and they knew the rest of his family. They knew his mother, his brother and his sister. Maybe all this business with Gabriel and the virgin birth had left behind hints of illegitimacy. After all, they make no mention of Joseph. This is, they thought, Jesus the carpenter. Someone like us. Surely God would not call and bless someone like that. He’s just a normal person.
Oh, how we limit God to some sort of divine realm. God is safely up there above the clouds, and we are down here. And never the twain shall meet. We don’t look for God in the every day, and assume he’s absent from the mundane. He’s at a safe distance, and we might visit him on the odd Sunday morning.
Those who lived in Nazareth knew Jesus so well that the old saying had been proved: familiarity breeds contempt. Had he been a visiting white-suited preacher, all straight teeth and perfect hair, they probably would have followed him. But Jesus? Ah, we know him too well.
This is still too often the case. The stories of Christ are too well known, and have lost their power to shock. The Gospels become a sort ancient Brothers Grimm, and Jesus becomes an younger version of Santa. A ‘folk-Jesus’ emerges, all smiles and affirmation. The Jesus who spoke of “wailing and gnashing of teeth” in hell, is replaced with a Jesus who says do whatever you want. Someone so bland you wonder why they crucified him in the first place! Like an inoculation, you get just enough Jesus to make sure you don’t catch Christianity!
If I was the proud possessor of a thick head of hair, I’d be tempted to pull it out at so much that is written about Jesus. It simply does not bear relation to the figure we see in the gospels, or the one worshipped throughout the vast bulk of the church’s history.
So what do we do about this all? Let Jesus be Jesus.
The great challenge to those of us who were were brought up in the church is to try and meet Jesus afresh. To forget all that we know (or think we know) and read the Gospel as if for the first time. It only takes about an hour to read Mark’s Gospel. If you were to read it through in a sitting, you’d find your understanding of Jesus revolutionised.
And then remember that Jesus is more than simply a miracle worker, and a great teacher. He is God. The eternal second person of the Trinity. Allow familiar stories to challenge you afresh, and read his words remembering that they carry the authority of the God.
To put it simply, ask yourself this question: who is Jesus to you? Is he someone you’ve created in your own image, a better version of yourself at your best. Have you stripped him of his glory, of his divinity, and made him simply a good teacher? Have you created an imaginary Messiah, or allowed Jesus to speak for himself?
These questions lie at the core of Christianity. Faith in Christ, needs to be faith in Christ as he presents himself. It is faith in a Christ both human and divine, a faith in a Christ who calls you to follow him.
Don’t settle for anything less. Turn to your Bibles again and meet the real Jesus.