Preached FCCW July 8, 2018
Jesus came to his hometown of Nazareth.
And he could do no deed of power there, except he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.
Let that statement sink in for a moment.
Curing even a few sick people by laying hands on them would rate as pretty impressive for most people.
But Jesus wasn’t most people.
Up to this point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had already been building a resumé of miracles that included subduing a raging storm at sea,
healing sick people, paralytics and lepers,
casting out demons, and even raising the dead back to life.
But, it was as if the reception Jesus got when he went back to his hometown of Nazareth, sucked all the air out of his power to perform miracles.
You’d think it would have been just the opposite!
One of their own had left the village and gone out to make a name for himself in the world.
It should have been a hero’s welcome that greeted him!
A cue the Duckboats occasion.
But when he spoke in the synagogue the townspeople were offended that this whippersnapper who had grown up among them should presume to teach them anything.
They had the inside dope on him so they weren’t so easily starstruck by what he did as other people were.
“Isn’t this the carpenter?” they said.
Because carpenters were expected to know a lot about wood-working, but not a lot about soul-work.
“Isn’t this the son of Mary?” they asked.
Which was also intended as a put-down.
In those days, you identified someone by their father.
The proper way to identify him would have been as the son of Joseph.
The only reason to call Jesus the son of Mary would be to insinuate that no one knew for sure who his real father was.
The story says that “Jesus could do no deed of power there,
except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.”
“And he was amazed at their unbelief.”
So, there you have it.
It wasn’t anything about Jesus or his power that changed that day.
What was different in Nazareth that separated that village from other places,
was that their unbelief kept them from being on the receiving end of many miracles that day.
This was “familiarity breeds contempt” in action.
They refused to believe and that unbelief neutralized his power to change their lives.
If you’ve ever tried to help someone who has an addiction to get clean and sober,
you might have a sense of the powerlessness that Jesus experienced.
Anyone in the halls of AA, Al-Anon or Narcotics Anonymous will tell you that until a person is willing and ready to get better, nothing anyone else does, especially their own family, will help them.
There is a kind of surrender that is necessary before we can receive a power greater than our own into our lives.
And it was notably absent on that day.
In her book, Bread of Angels, Barbara Brown Taylor describes the scene in Nazareth this way.
“If you have ever pressed a lit match to a pile of wet sticks, then you know what it was like.
It does not matter how strong your flame is; what you need is something that will catch fire.
So they took offense at him, and that was that.
He dropped the match when it burned his fingers and absolutely nothing caught fire in the synagogue that day.”
Most of the great heroes of literature and legend, in spite of whatever strength or prowess they had at their disposal, also had some tragic weakness that could render them as vulnerable as any other person.
There is a name for this kind of weakness – Achilles Heel.
It comes from the Greek myth of the great warrior, Achilles.
When he was a baby, it was foretold that he would die in battle.
To try to prevent that prediction from coming true, his mother dipped Achilles in the River Styx, because it’s waters were supposed to offer powers of invincibility.
But she held Achilles by the heel as she dipped him in the waters of the river, so that was the one part of his body that was not made invincible.
Achilles grew up to be a legendary warrior.
But, wouldn’t you know it, one day a lucky archer shot a poisonous arrow that pierced Achilles heel, and he died from that wound.
Even Superman had his Achilles Heel.
Expose Superman to material from his home-town planet of Krypton and suddenly, he stopped being faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive.
The unbelief of the people in his hometown was like Kryptonite to Jesus.
Everywhere else he went, he was able to do all kinds of miraculous things.
But, not in Nazareth.
The thing about Jesus – you might say his Achilles Heel – is that he calls disciples, but he refuses to take hostages.
He knocks and then waits for us to open the door.
He doesn’t use a battering ram to get through and force himself on us.
But, that also leaves Jesus vulnerable to our lack of faith in him.
Now, as with all the stories we find in the Gospels, this one is not written only to tell us something about other people.
It is written so that we can see ourselves in the story.
And if we’re talking about the people who are Jesus’ hometown neighbors and family in today’s world – well, we’d be talking about us!
We’d be talking about the Church!
So, this story is about something more than how the Kryptonite of Nazareth’s disbelief disabled Jesus’ power to bless them.
This story also invites us in the Church to identify what Kryptonite we have hanging around that is keeping Jesus from being as powerful of a force among us as he could be.
It is about naming whatever Kryptonite is preventing his Church from being the transformative presence in the world that he commissioned it to be.
What it boils down to is this.
Whatever we believe in more than we believe in Jesus is the Kryptonite that weakens his power and influence in our lives.
When Jesus sent his disciples out to spread the gospel, he told them to travel light so that they could navigate by trusting in what God would provide, instead of trusting in their own provisions.
Weighing themselves down with what they thought they needed for the journey would get in the way of their receiving what he would provide for them as they went about on their mission.
Putting their faith in their own assumptions instead of trusting what Jesus knew was best for them would be Kryptonite to the success of the mission he gave them.
And, guess what.
When those disciples listened to him, miracles became as possible through them as they were through him.
The passage we read ends with this verse: “They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”
The same rules apply to the Church today as applied to the disciples back then.
Many of the people who make up the Church have grown up knowing Jesus as well as his Nazareth neighbors did.
Despite that, or maybe precisely because of that, we can be as skeptical of what he can do among us as they were.
Any time we think we have nothing new to learn about our relationship to Jesus or that we know better than him what is best for us, it is pure Kryptonite to the power of Jesus to accomplish deeds of power through us.
Because, in the long run, it doesn’t matter if Jesus can leap tall buildings with a single bound, if we aren’t willing to take a leap of faith in him.
Copyright 2018 Raymond Medeiros