And he 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. (Read the whole passage)
The Gospel of Mark has not been easy on us the past few weeks. In fact, as we explored the parables and teachings and experiences of Jesus, we discover that Mark is not easy on us at all. As Jesus preached about Satan’s House being undivided, we were reminded that our houses, that our communities cannot avoid being divided. We heard of God the radical gardener who plants the weed like mustard shrub in the garden, knowing that it will take over everything and grow out of control, and that this what the kingdom of God is like. We watched as Jesus calmed the storm, but in the process terrified the disciples and us, causing them to question who really is this Jesus. Last week, we saw Jesus break boundaries and rules, in order to bring God’s love near to us. We saw the way in which Jesus creates a new community among us and how uncomfortable this makes as we are stripped of the ways in which we like to be in control. Mark has held up a mirror, and it has shown us a reflection that we don’t always like to see.
Today is no different.
As we hear about Jesus preaching in his hometown following by the sending out of his disciples, it would be easy to focus on the instructions that Jesus gives. To preach to those who will listen, and to move on from those who won’t. If only ministry was that simple, work those who like you – ignore those who don’t.
Focusing on those instructions of Jesus to his disciples is the easy way of bypassing the part of today’s reading that really makes us uncomfortable, that really makes us squirm.
And he could do no deed of power there.
Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth on his preaching tour. Jesus goes back to the place where he is well known, and his reception is a little frosty. Those of us who have left home and then come back, know the feeling. No matter how long we have been away, no matter how much we see and experience, no matter how much success we achieve, once we come home, we become what we were before. Mary’s son. The child of that family. The sibling of this person. The relative of those folks. The carpenter, the class clown, the paperboy, the nerd, the high school star athlete.
Jesus comes home and no one can see more than the little boy, that young man who lived in their community and had a very certain place among them. A place that didn’t include being a prophet or teaching the word of God. For the people of Nazareth, Jesus was not going to come home and preach to them. They could not let go of the image of the boy who grew up in their community and was just another common man, they could not consider that Jesus just might be preaching something worth hearing.
And because of Nazareth’s refusal to hear, we become uncomfortable with the results. As much they could not see a prophet preaching in their midst, we get squeamish with the idea of a God who can do no deeds of power.
The TV series, the Walking Dead, portrays a post-apocalyptic world. A world where a plague has wiped out most of humanity and turned people into re-animated corpses bent on consuming the living. The world is full of zombies. The show focuses on a small group of people struggling to survive in this nightmarish world.
The main character, Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Grimes, leads a group of friends and family through this world trying to simply survive each day. The stress of finding food, weapons ,fuel and safety takes its toll. As disaster after disaster strikes the group, Rick finally finds himself standing in a vacant church, standing before a large crucifix, and feeling at the end of his rope. Despite himself, he offers up this prayer:
“I am not a religious man, I have had faith in other things, my job, my friends, my family mostly. But the thing is, we need… I could use a little something to help us keep going. Some kind of acknowledgment, some kind of indication I am doing the right thing. Just a little sign. Any sign i’ll do.”
In our world with such a complicated relationship with power, we get the struggle that Jesus encounters. He hasn’t come to conquer or destroy. He has come to preach the good news… and if people don’t want to hear it, what power does he have over them to compel them?
Power comes in so many different shapes and forms in our world, and along with everything else these days… power is changing too. We once thought we were masters of nature, yet now with climate change we struggle to contend with disaster. We once thought progress and democratic freedom would march us towards greater prosperity and stability, yet now the structures the hold the world seems to be fraying at the edges, teetering on the brink. We once thought the church was the great central guiding institution of our communities, yet now we are a shell of former glory. Politicians, officials, experts and the famous used to command the public respect and deference, yet now anyone with a phone can be famous, can start a revolution, can influence the world.
So when Jesus shows up and people don’t want to listen, we get what that looks and feels like.
And Jesus could do no deeds of power there.
To imagine a God that doesn’t have the power to do miracles makes us wonder if God is God at all. Is Jesus really who we think he is, if he all of a sudden couldn’t show his power. Yes, the sinful self within all of us attempts to be God in God’s place. But in our moments of desperation, in the moments when we need something bigger than ourselves, we want to at least know that there is someone who is exerting control over this chaotic world. A
No wonder we would rather just leave that verse, that idea alone.
Before leaving the empty church and the crucifix, and returning to the troubles of the world of the Walking Dead, Rick Grimes, concludes his desperate prayer:
“I just need an indication to know whether I am doing the right thing. You have no idea how hard that is know…”
And then he pauses and looks up at the image of Christ… blood dripping from the crown of thorns… hanging from the cross. And Rick takes a breath.
“Well, maybe you do…”
And Jesus could do no deeds of power there.
This powerless moment of Christ is meant to catch us, it not meant to simply be glossed over. While we have watched Jesus calm the storm, heal the bleeding woman, and raise a little girl to life with a word, we are being prepared for where Jesus is going.
Jesus has not come into our world to heal our wounds, still our fears or prevent us from dying too soon. Jesus mission is something completely different. Jesus is headed for a different place of powerlessness.
Jesus is rejected in Nazareth, but it will not be the last place. As Jesus rides into Jerusalem as a powerful king, he will be carried out as crucified criminal. But it is not just that Jesus will be rejected. As Christ goes to the cross, it will become the place where God’s power seems to completely disappear.
At least where Godly power on our terms will seem to be gone. In fact, the cross will become the place of humanity’s most godlike act. The place where we will not just crucify and kill a common carpenter, but the cross is the place where humanity will put God to death.
With our most God like power, we will kill God.
And so God shows us a different kind of power. It is not a power that is about mighty deeds, or miracles. It is not a power that compels us to believe. Jesus does not come down from the cross as King and force us to kneel at his feet.
God shows us power in weakness. God shows us love. Love that even when put to death will not stop loving. God will not permit even that mightiest power of death to prevent God from loving us. God’s love cannot be ended or destroyed.
And it is because the miracles will not solve our problems. The deeds of power will not save us. God’s love is the only way we can be healed or reconciled or brought to new life. God’s love is the only way to truly saved from ourselves.
And he could do no deeds of power there.
Yet God’s mission, Christ’s purpose remained the same. Deeds of power or no deeds power, Jesus came into the world to show us God’s love, not God’s power. And yes, that makes uncomfortable, and makes us squirm. Despite our desire for power, God is willing to go do the cross to show us that love and life, that forgiveness and mercy are the true actions of God like power. God is willing to die… so that we may be loved.