The Offending Christ
In our journey with Jesus from his birth to his baptism to his first public appearances as the Christ, we read today of his return to his hometown.
The word had gotten around that this kid from Nazareth, whom they all knew, Mary’s kid, had become a big hit in the surrounding towns. There must have been a great turnout for the service. I can imagine it being packed.
When he is asked to speak, we hear of two things happening.
Firstly, the crowd gathered was astounded.
And then it says, Jesus was amazed.
Reminds me of the saying, “behind every successful man there is a surprised mother-in-law”.
The author of Mark’s Gospel uses the skillful play of words to make a point.
Firstly we are told in verse 2 the gathered people were “astounded” when they heard Jesus speak. In the original Greek text the word means to be so amazed that your experience is bordering on panic.
Secondly, we read at the end of this story how Jesus was “amazed” by their unblief. The original Greek means “to be astonished out of one’s senses”.
These are two radical reactions. Firstly, the gathered people in the synagogue are so amazed that they are bordering on panic and secondly Jesus is astonished out of his senses. The British would call it “gobstruck”.
What we can thus deduce from these events is that neither the crowd nor Jesus was prepared for the reaction of the other.
So, what is it that blew the minds of the home-crowd? We are told that his wisdom and understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures, not to mention his growing reputation, simply became too much for them. They reacted the way people often do when panicked; they rejected him.
He, in return, we are told, was so overwhelmed by their disbelief and anger that he had “lost his power”. What does that mean? It means his prophetic authority, received at his baptism when God declared, “this is my son in whom I am pleased”, was useless among his own people.
They may have heard of the powerful things he had been doing in the surrounding towns and villages, but they were unable to get over the fact that he was just one of them. In small communities like Nazareth and Aquebogue, nothing remains a secret for too long. They knew him too well to be able to recognize who he had become.
This is a traumatic event that shocked the home crowd, Jesus and probably his family. (We will get to them and their reaction in one of the following Sundays.)
What we learn from this event is that prophets often offend our sensibilities. How would we have reacted if one from among us whose private life is pretty well public knowledge, stands before us with a message that offends us?
All the prophets ordained by God had this one thing in common; they offended a great number of people. One can imagine that prophets were lonely people, often threatened, even treated violently. Why, because the TRUTH is dangerous. It hurts.
The TRUTH is not always welcomed.
The prophets of the Old Testament went through many of these same experiences. They had to flee for their lives. They were publicly humiliated and even killed. Who are our modern-day prophets and how do we treat them?
Let us begin by saying, prophets are not always perfect people. It appears the Old Testament prophets were very aware of their own failings. But they had one thing in common, they spoke the TRUTH.
I have thought of the contemporary prophets whose message threatened me in my life. If we are truthful, we probably all have a memory of someone who spoke the truth which was too much for us to deal with.
In retrospect I remember the anger these truth-tellers invoked in me. Some I resented because they offended me. The made me feel panicked, cornered, because the truth was hard to bear.
Martin Luther King (Jr) was one of them. When I learned what he stood for, I happily joined the crowd of my community to reject him. Some did it by calling him a communist. Others rejected him for the color of his skin. And so on.
Ghandi was another who spoke the truth in a way that offended others. Desmond Tutu another.
Then there are the ordinary people whom we know. Friends, acquaintances, teachers, and many others who communicate a message that often offends us. Yet, if we are truthful, its because they have struck a nerve. We become defensive and even aggressive as we counter, often with hurtful words that fly like poisoned arrows.
The offending Christ stands before us today and asks us to step away from behind our masks that hide our true selves and hear the truth.
Part of that truth is that we have forsaken the Way of God in many ways.
Some of us have forgotten that we cannot live in enmity with others and that our anger is consuming us where we are unable to forgive.
Some of us have become so obsessed with material things that we have lost our compassion for others, or, our compassion has become transactional. “If you prove that you will reward me by acting according to my expectations, I will show you compassion, otherwise, get lost.”
Some of us have confused what is good for our country with what is good for God’s Kingdom. Our patriotism and nationalism blinds us to the TRUTH. Prophets die violently when they meddle with people’s sense of nationalism and patriotism.
Some of us have lost hope and given up. We have turned inwardly and we are living in a self-impose exile of the spirit. We cannot trust God’s invitation for a new way of living our lives.
I better stop here because I recognize myself in too many of these scenarios. What about you?
Friends, Christ stands among us today reminding us that we remain God’s beloved. He calls us to turn away from the things that hurt and diminish not only others, but also our own lives. He promises a new beginning if we are willing to change our ways and to let go of the things that diminish others and our own life.
If we feel offended by the Truth it’s a sign that we have work to do.
Let it not be said of us, “he was amazed at their unbelief”.
To embrace the Truth will cost us but it will also restore our joy and allow us to live with hope.
Let us allow the offending Christ to lead us back to the path of meaningful life.