July 6, 2003
Here is a story of second chances, lost opportunities and miraculous healing – all in the space of thirteen verses. In this reading, Jesus returns to his hometown to offer them a second chance and they still fail to see him as more than the carpenter’s son. They humanize Jesus and the result is that they are unable to see that the miraculous has arrived in a dull village called Nazareth.
I am saddened by the work of so many theologians today who seem similarly bent on humanizing the divine. “Jesus was an exceptional man… but he was still just a carpenter’s stepson.” They are like the Nazarenes who presupposed that; “Because they do not see miracles, miracles must not exist.” In other words, they reduced the very Son of God to their own mediocrity; they refashioned him in their own image. The Nazarenes wanted a familiar Jesus – not the divine Savior. In a mediocre village, mediocre men decided that they preferred the stepson of questionable descent whom they had ignored all their life. They refused to believe in a God that was any bigger than themselves; especially one that came from their own neighborhood.
Jesus visits us at Nazareth everyday.
If I see Jesus as a carpenter’s son, if I try and reduce him to my level, if I seek to be too ‘familiar’ (as opposed to intimate) with the Christ – I will never see the miraculous Jesus.
Jesus leaves Nazareth saddened by their lack of faith. Then – as if in response – he races through the surrounding towns healing, cleansing, calling out demons. He bestows upon his apostles the right and the power to call out unclean demons. Yet, there sits Nazareth: A middling town of muddled beliefs and yet surrounded in ring of vibrant miracles.
Jesus visits us at Nazareth everyday.
I live in the miraculous Jesus. This is the incredible joy of mission work. I see lives transformed and the unclean washed on a daily basis. I am blessed to be in the ‘ring of vibrant miracles surrounding poor, tired Nazareth’. With all my heart, I want to invite those around me out of the secular and into the sacred, out of the middle and onto the edge, out of the monotony of Nazareth and into its vibrant ring of the miraculous. Leave behind the son of the carpenter and embrace the Son of God.
When Jesus comes to my Nazareth, I will be faced with a choice: Is he the son of a carpenter or the son of God? My response makes an eternal difference.
[Mk 6:1] Jesus went out from there and *came into His hometown; and His disciples *followed Him.  When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands?  “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him.  Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.”  And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And He wondered at their unbelief.
And He was going around the villages teaching.
 And He *summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits;  and He instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belt—  but to wear sandals; and He added, “Do not put on two tunics.”  And He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave town.  “Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them.”  They went out and preached that men should repent.  And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them. (NAS)
[Mk 6:1] Jesus went out from there and *came into His hometown; and His disciples *followed Him.  When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands?  “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. (NAS)
Jesus leaves the fishing village of Capernaum with an indelible mark. His preaching and healings affected the entire region. Thinking perhaps that word would travel ahead of him; he walks again the twenty miles southwest from Capernaum to his hometown of Nazareth. This was not our Lord's first outreach to the town where he was raised. Luke tells us that Jesus went there almost immediately after his days of fasting and temptation:
[Lk 4:14] And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district.  And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.
 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. (NAS)
During that trip, the townspeople were so offended by Jesus’ teaching that they tried to kill him:
[Lk 4:28] And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things;  and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. (NAS)
Remarkably, Jesus returns to the city of his childhood to offer them a second chance at salvation. Even more remarkably they reject him again.
They had heard of his miracles, they were stunned by his preaching, but they were unwilling to let Jesus be anything more than what they were: Mediocre.
Nazareth was a town with an attitude. The radical Galileans from around the region saw the town as a major outpost of a Roman garrison and the people of Nazareth as worthless pawns of their parasitic occupiers. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth,” says Nathaniel chiding Phillip regarding Jesus of Nazareth [John 1:46].
The people of Nazareth seemed similarly cynical about their own lot and were not going to let one of their own catch the limelight; particularly someone with such a questionable birth history. The problem was even more immediate to Jesus as even his own family was among those unwilling to acknowledge Jesus’ heavenly title. At another time, Jesus threatens to disown his own relatives saying that being his family is not a mere matter of birthright but an act of obedience.
[Mt 12:46] While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him.  Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.”  But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?”  And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers!  “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (NAS)
There are a number of warning lights that should flash for us in this passage. First, we need to examine the difference between intimacy and familiarity with Jesus. Intimacy with our Lord leads to awe and humility. Jesus constantly invites us into intimacy and the closer we are to him the more we are indebted to him.
Alternatively, familiarity breeds contempt and pride as we allow our egos to undermine Christ's divinity. As long as we want to share the throne with Jesus we will not experience the divine Christ; the miraculous Christ. Only one of us can be God. It was that attitude of mundane familiarity that the people of Nazareth displayed towards the Savior who offered them a second chance.
Jesus showed a particularly strong reaction towards familiarity, even when it was displayed by Peter who takes it upon himself to advise Jesus not to turn towards Jerusalem (itself a city of multiple ‘second chances’ and crippled by ‘familiarity’ with God) [Mt 16:23; Mk 8:33].
In similar fashion, God himself sends Peter shivering in the dirt when the Apostle again tries to become too familiar – not only with Jesus – but also with Moses and Elijah as well.
[Mt 17:3] And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.  Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!”  When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. (NAS)
Are we too familiar with Jesus for him to work in our lives? Do we miss the divine because we have no expectation of it? Have we boxed Jesus into our humanity and in the process missed his divinity. Always with Jesus; we get what we look for.
He is not limited by our beliefs; but we are.
[Mk 6:4] Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.”  And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And He wondered at their unbelief.
And He was going around the villages teaching. (NAS)
Jesus does not use his specific title as God’s begotten heir in this statement. Some theologians believe that this is because Jesus was not yet fully aware of his vocation. Personally, I believe that when Jesus speaks in this manner, he is not speaking about himself in particular - but about his obedient followers in general.
The word for prophet [GSN4396 prophetes] actually is a compilation of two words which might best translate as; "to speak out about what is to come."
What better definition of a Follower’s role? We are to speak out about what lies ahead in two dramatic ways:
1) The sorrow of separation from God;
2) The joy of living fully in his will.
Prophecy is not something attained through an advanced degree program at an exclusive seminary. It is part and parcel of every faithful response to Jesus Christ. We don’t need to be a scholar in the books of Daniel or Revelation to tell someone how much joy God can bring to our lives the very moment we choose his freedom over the enslavement of sin.
Whenever a descriptive Greek word begins with the letter ‘A’ it is usually means ‘without’ or ‘the opposite of’; for example, apathy would be the opposite of pathos (passion or intense feelings). Similarly, the word for ‘without honor’ [GSN820 atimos] means ‘devoid of honor’ [GSN5092 time], it means dishonored; without value or respect. It reminds us of how Jesus must have been treated throughout his life by those of Nazareth. Born under the specter of a dubious birth, raised as a child of questionable paternity – no wonder our Lord was so conscious of the outcast and the unclean.
Jesus speaks both specifically and generally about being a prophet and the treatment they have received and can expect to receive in future generations. They should also expect to be without value or honor by three distinct groups:
1) Their nation (fatherland) [GSN3968 patris];
This term applies to one’s race or region. It is not unusual for someone of a majority race to be hated by their own people because of their commitment to a minority. Jesus obviously confronted Nazareth – by his message – but even more by healing the outcasts of his own hometown (the only one’s included in the miraculous). That is why – when Jesus told them the story of Naaman the leper – they became so angry as to try and kill Jesus [Matt 4:25-27].
Jesus basically tells them; “You won’t see miracles anymore because you have forgotten how to wonder at God’s hand. You’ve replaced his miraculous with your mediocrity. You are cursed by a belief no larger than your own prejudices.”
2) Their kinsmen [GSN4773a suggenes];
In Christ’s day, this would imply his extended family which – in a close-knit pastoral society – would even apply to his ‘village’.
How might a prophet be rejected by his own community? One dear friend of mine (who runs a nearby homeless shelter) speaks prophetically to me when he says; “I have worked here for eight years standing like Nehemiah on the wall of Jerusalem. I have carried the Word in hand and my spear in the other; but where are my Ezra’s?”
Of course he is speaking about the lack of pastoral presence in justice or rescue work today. Churches often seem quite content with worship and social events but totally ignore the scriptural imperative to restore the oppressed. Our Lord’s response to that is clear:
[Ps 9:9] The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble. (NAS)
We are called to be a refuge for the poor, a stronghold in trouble!
[Ps 10:17] You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
 defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more. (NAS)
We are called to be the desire of the afflicted; they should seek us because we hear their cry, encourage and defend them, so that this world may not terrify them any longer.
[Ps 146:7] He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
 the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.
 The LORD watches over the alien
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. (NAS)
We are called to be uphold, feed, set free, give sight, lift up, watch over, sustain the outcast while simultaneously ‘frustrating the wicked’.
Can we declare that our churches are strongholds of the oppressed? Do our churches watch over the alien, sustain the fatherless and frustrate the wicked?
The truth is that churches that pursued this course would be much less concerned about membership and much more concerned with mission. The passion of the church would be rightly focused outward with love and service as a singular coherent mission. The Gospel would be radiant in raw sincerity.
3) Their closest family [GSN3614 oikia];
This is the term for one’s closest family. Perhaps no one has a harder time believing in a prophetic call than the ones with whom the prophet was raised. In other studies we have examined the probable difficulties of Christ’s childhood. We know from Matthew [12:38] and Mark [3.32] that Jesus’ family (or at least his brother James) did not recognize Christ’s call until late in his ministry. In the earlier stages of his mission they attempted to force Jesus to stop his ministry and return home.
Did Christ’s family feel the jealousy of Joseph’s brothers (the sons of Isaac) or the protective fear of a loved one for a sibling who places himself directly in harm’s way? Or, perhaps it was a confusing jumble of both feelings; jealousy and protectiveness.
Truthfully, all of us must deal with this ‘intimate vs. familiar’ response to our brother and Lord, Jesus. We want him to be warm and supportive to us but not assertive and challenging to the world. Like Peter, we like Jesus doing the miraculous close to home – but don’t want him to turn towards Jerusalem: We want a domestic Jesus, a safe Jesus, a familiar Jesus.
We like our prophets tame--just as they did in the town of Nazareth. Yet, we must choose between a tame Jesus and a miraculous Jesus. For we will not experience a miraculous God in the confines of our comfort. The miraculous belongs in the realm of the extraordinary; not the familiar.
A prophet does not seek to be liked (but neither do they seek to make enemies). A prophet seeks to tell the unmitigated, biblical truth. How others respond to the truth is out of the prophet’s hands. However, the fact is that if a disciple of Christ does not experience opposition and even anger toward their ministry than they are probably diluting the Gospel. This especially applies to the prophetic role of the body of Christ as advocates for the outcast (See Matt 25:41)
All too often church theology is like church coffee: it is so diluted that it doesn’t offend anyone’s palette or stimulate anyone’s gut.
Conversely, Christ himself was electric. He was INCREDIBLE news to the poor and outcast:
[Lk 4:18] "The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (NAS)
Jesus’ radical preference for the poor identifies them as the prophets who will replace him when he is physcially gone. Poverty and injustice must always remind us of our duty before God:
[Mt 26:11] “For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me.” (NAS)
It is the role of the prophet to make us uncomfortable with our complacency in this world. Post-Christ, that role has fallen to the elderly, the mentally ill, the addicted, the incarcerated and the children of poverty.
[Ps 68:4] Sing to God, sing praise to his name,
extol him who rides on the clouds—
his name is the LORD—
and rejoice before him.
 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
 God sets the lonely in families,
he leads forth the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. (NAS)
We are the rebellious when we live praising God in the midst of poverty:
[Am 5:21] “I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
I cannot stand your assemblies.
 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (NAS)
Do we honor the prophetic in the guise of the poor today? Do we accept them in our nation, village and, yes – even our family? Or, have we become too familiar with them so that we are no longer even uncomfortable in the presence of the poor? We familiarize the poor whenever we blame them for their situation and thus create a scapegoat for our corporate sin.
Do we – like Nazareth – try to chase away the poor and wounded, or – as Jesus’ family attempted to do with Jesus – do we try to quiet them and secret them away?
[Mk 6:7] And He *summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits;  and He instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belt—  but to wear sandals; and He added, “Do not put on two tunics.” (NAS)
Christ’s timing is interesting; how many of us could go from rejection by family and peers to commissioning disciples in the space of a few hours? The rejection must have been a setback to Jesus for we see that he was amazed [GSN2296 thaumazo] at their persistent disbelief [see 6:6]. Yet, Christ’s response to their hostility was neither timidity nor disorientation. Rather, he begins sending out his disciples with authority.
Jesus consistently responds to rejection with a growing intensity of purpose. How can he do this when many of us might be recoiling in personal woundedness? Because our Lord knows that the rejection of men is the validity of a prophet.
[Mt 10:37] “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.  “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” (NAS)
Instead of recoiling; Christ takes his ministry on an intensive tour to the villages surrounding Nazareth and then summons [GSN4341 proskaleo] the twelve to his side. Literally, he calls the twelve close to his ‘proximity’ and then sends them out. In the process, he gives this band of twelve the name by which we recognize them: The Apostles [GSN649 apostello]. Literally, they are the ‘Sent Away’. That name should be the nom-de-plume of all Christians everywhere: We are “The Sent Away!”
Ministering in County Jails has taught me the importance of this missional title: Apostello. Sometimes I will see a person only a few times; sometimes I may be in touch with them for over a year. Sometimes I can get behind the Plexiglas to pray with them; in other situations I have ministered to men for months where our only contact was our palms pressing against opposite sides of the glass. I cannot keep these men - though I pray at times I could do just that. They will never be ‘members’ of my ‘congregation’ but it seems that the nature of faith among the least of these is always apostello; sending away. They are sent to prison from jail, from a rest home to heaven, from a shelter to the streets or recovery or even a home.
Every moment I have and every word I say seems measured by ‘the immediate’. “If the guard rolls this man up at 04:00 tomorrow morning have I given him enough strength to take up the Gospel of Christ wherever he winds up?”
Each of our lives is more immediate than we ever realize. Not only because of the judgment we are approaching; but because of the joy we are missing! How can I be satisfied with anyone around me living in sorrow when joy is just a breath (God’s breath; the Holy Spirit) away?
Where’s my immediacy? Is there no sorrow around me? “Here I am, Lord! Send me!”
“Make me ‘Apostello’!”
Authority is both the power and the right to act. When Jesus sends us out it is with the ability and the right to do God’s work. We are a sent people and he will give us all we need to do his work in each and every situation. The results may not meet our expectations; but being faithful means substituting our petty expectations with his grand promises. We ask God to make instruments of our lives and we let his fingers play the tune. We put our accomplishments aside for his availability.
In particular, the Apostles receive the power and right to cast out what are called unclean [GSN169 akathartos] spirits [GSN4151 pneuma]. Some theologians state that people were less sophisticated in Christ’s day and were thus more prone to believing in spirits. Conversely, I believe that they were more aware of the spiritual world then than we are today.
The word for an unclean [GSN169 akathartos] spirit is quite illustrative. It is rooted in two other words:
· A [GSN1 a] which means without;
· Kathairo [GSN2508] mean pruned.
An unclean spirit is one that is ‘without pruning’. It is a spirit that refuses the discipline of God; it refuses to be obedient to the Lord. It is the spirit that produces no heavenly fruit; the vine that is cast into the fire and burned.
[Jn 15:2] “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. (NAS)
[See the study on John 15:2 for more information on this topic].
Christ gives his ‘Sent Ones’ the ability and the right to cast out the disobedient spirit and replace it with a heart for obedience!
[Ro 6:16] Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?  But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed,  and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.  I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. (NAS)
The disobedient spirit is perhaps the most difficult of our demons to exorcise. Paul tells us that we must “present our members as slaves to righteousness,” in order to receive the grace (blessed gift) of obedience. Without grace the disobedient heart rejects discipline (pruning) and without discipline and obedience we cannot know eternal life:
[Jn 3:36] “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” [NAS]
If we are willing to present ourselves as slaves to Christ; he will give us the necessary discipline to become obedient. Even more, through obedience we too can receive the power and authority of the ‘Sent Ones’. We too can pass on the pruning power of Christ. We can cast out disobedient spirits through the greatest power in the universe; the overwhelming power of God’s love.
Some theologians say that Jesus sent his people out ‘the first time’ with no possessions because it was only a temporary commission: a practice run. I disagree with this (and it certainly wasn’t a practice run for those healed of unclean demons). In many other verses Christ tells his followers that the perfect follower [telios] leaves everything behind to follow him. We need look no further than the references from Matthew regarding Christ’s call to follow him:
[Mt 4:19] And He *said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” (NAS)
[Mt 8:19] Then a scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.”  Jesus *said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
 Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.”  But Jesus *said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.” (NAS)
[Mt 10:37] “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.  “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” (NAS)
[Mt 16:24] Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.  “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (NAS)
[Mt 19:20] The young man *said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?”  Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (NAS)
I think it is wishful theological thinking to believe that Jesus ‘lightened up’ in his call for a complete and unreserved response to follow him. There are two reasons for the immediacy and absoluteness of this call:
1) We can never be prepared for where God will send us.
To try to prepare may even be limiting the Holy Spirit's ability to move in us:
[Mk 13:11] “When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit.”
2) There is a significant humility that comes from being totally dependent upon God.
We are all totally dependent upon God; it is just that most of us do not realize it. When my wife and I made a recommitment to full-time, independent, mission work, we saw a radical change in income in three ways:
a) We acknowledged that every dime that we received was unquestionably a gift from God;
Receiving no salary has been a definite blessing. I used to spend more time in meaningless training, worthless committees, oral and written justification of my salary and fund-raising than I did with those in need. When I looked up, all I saw was nose hair; everyone was my boss! Now my only boss is God and my training manual are the Scriptures. With this new found freedom I have also received greater credibility among my peers and those in need. Choosing total dependence on God has brought liberation.
b) We saw a radical drop in expenses;
Our radical drop in expenses has not been due to our radical drop in income as some might think. Rather, we have been blessed with an exciting need for less. Choosing total dependence on God has brought contentment.
c) We found increased joy in blessings totally unrelated to possessions or position.
Sustaining us on our journey has not been new titles, larger cars or recreation vehicles; instead, we are blessed by the letter from the man we helped meet Christ in a County jail, the “bless you” from the ladies who liked our songs at the rest home, or the homeless woman who was strengthened by our home study group. All the money in the world could not replace the “thanks for sticking with me” from an inmate who was totally abandoned by everyone but Jesus. Choosing total dependence on God has brought fulfillment and purpose to our lives.
It was a fearful step and the pruning still continues; but God is abundant in fulfilling his promises to those who rely upon him:
[Mk 10:28] Peter began to say to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You.”  Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake,  but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.  “But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.” (NAS)
 And He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave town.  “Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them.” (NAS)
These are symbolic words which are frighteningly dramatic. It was customary for Jewish religious leaders to take this action if they had to pass through a Gentile community. The meaning was a shocking pronouncement: “I don’t even want the dirt of your town on my feet!”
To ‘shake the dust off your feet’ meant that the people of that town were not worth any continued effort. They would now be left to account for themselves in the face of God’s inevitable judgment.
This is not the politically correct Jesus that we would prefer to preach about. These are statements we wish we could grab and say; “What he really meant was...”
Unfortunately, what Jesus really meant was exactly what he said. The Jesus who gave Nazareth a second chance never returned. He never looked back. The Jesus who gives his ‘sent ones’ the power to heal the disobedient spirit also gives them the right to dramatically walk away if people do not accept this healing.
Yet, there is more to Christ’s injunction than meets the eye. For it is often the dramatic action of ‘shaking the dust off’ that also ‘shakes some sense into’ the life of the undisciplined sinner. This is the ‘tough love’ side of Christianity which we are very poor at revealing. In our effort to be inclusive; we have instead become permissive and the result is a wishy-washy Christianity that seems to embrace everyone from Wicca to whatever. This is the ‘Jesus was a nice guy’ syndrome at its worst.
But, nice guys don’t make statements like this and nice guys certainly don’t end up on the cross of a traitor.
Jesus frequently made statements like the one in this verse; statements that ‘nice-guys’ would never make. Yet, they were statements that clarified Christianity and shed a telescopic beam of light on the narrow road to salvation.
[Mt 7:14] “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (NAS)
Just as in the story of the rich young man [Luke 18:18-30]; we do not find Jesus changing the difficulty of his commands just to appease someone who cannot keep them. In other words, he doesn’t chase down the rich young man and say; “Did I say you must give up everything? I meant you must give up only ten percent!”
Instead he says; “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” [Lk 18:25].
However, even though Jesus doesn't reduce the command to include the rich young man; he does promise something far greater – he offers the Helper who can help us live the life that is God-full:
[Jn 14:16] “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.” (NAS)
Jesus sets tough parameters as he shakes the dust of Nazareth from his feet. Yet, there is a ‘rest of the story’ to this passage which Mark shares with us. It is precisely because Jesus holds to ‘the parameters’ that we know what we must do to receive salvation. Though Nazarene dust is shaken off Christ’s feet; we know of at least one Nazarene who repented and was saved. This Nazarene rejected the prophet on all three levels mentioned by Christ: He was of the nation of Jesus, the village of Jesus and the family of Jesus. He was James, the brother of our Lord, the James written about in verse 6:3.
This ‘Rejector’ became a leader of the Jerusalem church and probably wrote the letter of James. This ‘Rejector’ of Jesus on all three levels mentioned by our Lord became an ‘Embracer’ of the Gospel on the most fundamental level. This would not have occurred had Jesus watered down the call to ‘ditch it all and follow me’.
We do not make heaven more attainable by making it more available!
Life with God can be found not by weakening the commandments but by strengthening the believer. We cast out the demon that won’t accept God’s discipline and instill a new Spirit that brings us into right relationship with God.
Our faith should never strive to reduce the Gospel to our level but to increase our faith to God’s level. Like the Centurion whose son was dying from disease; our helpless plea should always be: “I do believe; help my unbelief.” [Mk 9:24] (NAS)
In this reading, Jesus is rejected by his own hometown. They refuse to see him as the Son of God and instead want to see him as just the son of a carpenter. They want to see Jesus by his earthly title (son of Joseph) instead of his divine title (Son of God). They wanted a Jesus who was just like them.
Consequently, they are unable to see miracles happen in their own hometown whereas in all the towns surrounding Nazareth, Jesus and his Apostles did incredible works.
There is a very important lesson here: Those who believe that Jesus is ‘just like me’ will never experience the miraculous Jesus who is able to transform lives and offer us salvation.
Most of us have probably heard someone say; “Jesus? Oh sure, he was a good man – but I don’t believe he was the Son of God. I believe that Confucius was a good man too and Gandhi – but I don’t believe they were the sons of God. Jesus was only human – just like me.”
People who say those things are like the people of Nazareth, who believed that Jesus was ‘just like them’. Every other town was blessed with abundant miracles – except Nazareth: The town that wanted a Jesus who was ‘just like them’.
Our faith teaches us that Jesus is not ‘just like us’. We didn’t need only the example of ‘just a good man’ to teach us how to enter God’s kingdom. No! God sent his divine son because we needed his perfect sacrifice to cleanse us of our sin. Jesus wasn’t just like us – he was just like God. Jesus is not just a person who shows us how to be good – he is God’s son who paid the price for our sins. To believe in Jesus is not to believe that he is ‘just like me’. It is to believe that he was God’s beloved son, sent to die for sinners – just like me.
Son of Joseph or Son of God? Just like me or just like God? My answer to that question makes all the difference in whether my life will know the touch of God or be limited by the boundaries of experience. As for me, I prefer the miraculous!
1. Find examples in the bible that show Jesus was not ‘just like me’, but instead, ‘just like God’.
2. Jesus was a good example of how we should live; but can you find places in the bible where he tells us that he is more than just a good example? That he is the Son of God sent to die for our sins?
3. One of Jesus’ stepbrothers was James – who is listed in this scripture [Mark 6:3] as one of those who rejected Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. Later, James would become one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church and is believed to have written the book of James. Write a play or story that shows how James changed his belief about his stepbrother.
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