Our readings this morning may seem an odd collection at first glance. The Old Testament reading is about David finally, after seven and a half years, being accepted as King of Israel. The New Testament reading from 2 Corinthians has Paul telling us of an amazing vision and spiritual experience. And the gospel which we just heard is the story of Jesus’ less than spectacular return to his hometown of Nazareth. At first glance, these stories don’t seem to have a lot in common. But there is one theme that I find in each of these readings and that is the theme of acceptance and rejection, and so we’re going to explore that a bit this morning.
All of us encounter moments and face decisions of acceptance or rejection every day of our lives. Some are trivial. The alarm clock goes off in the morning. Do you accept the instructions that you pre-programmed for yourself and get up, or do you reject them, hit the snooze button and go back to sleep? Not that big a deal. But some moments of acceptance or rejection are much more profound. When you discover over the course of your marriage that your spouse is not the person you thought he or she was, is your response acceptance or rejection?
How do we make these decisions? When we accept or reject people, or ideas, or events, are these well thought out decisions, or are they more like gut reactions? Does our faith enter into any of this, or is that just reserved for Sunday mornings?
One of the reasons I think it’s worth reflecting on this is that what we accept or reject says a lot about who we are. That’s ironic in a way, because we think that the focus is on the thing or person or idea that we’re evaluating. But in the end what I accept or reject says a lot more about me than anything or anyone else. In the last US election, when Hilary Clinton called Trump supporters deplorables, we didn’t learn much about those who supported Trump, but we did learn something about Clinton, and it hurt her in the election.
I think that Mark the gospel writer understood this. That’s why he’s structured his gospel so that the key question that keeps returning for us, for his readers, is “Who do you think Jesus is?” Mark is constantly encouraging us to respond to Jesus, to answer that question for ourselves. Because when we do respond, when we accept or reject Jesus, when we make judgements about who Jesus is, we learn something about ourselves, and we become part of the story, ready to go on our own journey, ready to follow the path of discipleship. Or not.
In our Old Testament text, today’s reading comes seven years after the death of Saul, the first king of Israel. After Saul’s death, David was proclaimed as King by his own tribe of Judah, but the northern tribes of Israel had followed Abner, one of Saul’s military commanders, and they had installed one of Saul’s sons, Ishbaal as king. A long war followed between David’s and Ishbaal’s armies, during which David’s forces became stronger and stronger, and Ishbaal’s became weaker. Finally, after seven years of rejecting David, the leaders of the northern tribes come to David at Hebron in the reading we heard today and accept him as their King, and David goes on to be the King of all twelve tribes of Israel for thirty-three more years.
So why is it that the response of the northern tribes to David changed from one of rejection to acceptance? Their words say that they want David as king because the Lord had told David that he was to be shepherd of Israel and because David had been a great army leader under Saul. But they’ve known all that for the seven years that they’ve been rejecting David. The reason they’re accepting him now seems to be a bit more basic: David is a winner, he’s got the power and the northern tribes realize that it is in their own-self interest to align with him.
In our New Testament reading of 2 Corinthians there’s another power struggle going on. Paul is the apostle who founded the Christian community at Corinth and first told them the good news of Jesus, and since then he’s served as their spiritual guide, through periodic visits and correspondence. But it seems that others who call themselves apostles have infiltrated the community and discredited Paul, calling on the community to reject Paul and his teaching and to endorse their leadership. These so-called apostles claim to have better credentials than Paul. They’re better Jews, they have more achievements and they’ve had superior spiritual visions. In short, they claim to have a better C.V. than Paul, and as a result they’ve been able to displace him in the eyes of at least some in the community.
And so Paul responds to the challenge in the reading we just heard. Even though it’s foolish to be arguing on the basis of our C.V’s and past credentials, he writes, let me answer my critics. And he goes on to give an account of his Jewish roots, of his missionary work and the suffering and persecution he has endured as a result, and in today’s text, of the vision and revelation that he experienced 14 years previously.
If I wanted to boast about these things, I could, says Paul, and he kind of does. But, he writes, it is more important for you to make your response based not on past accomplishments but on what you see in me and hear from me. Accept or reject me not based on my CV, but on whether my actions and my words are a proclamation of the kingdom of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.
In today’s gospel, Jesus returns to his hometown. He’s been traveling, teaching, healing. He’s demonstrated his power. Crowds of people flock to see him. But when he gets back home and begins to teach in the local synagogue, all of a sudden it’s a different reaction. Cynicism. Skepticism. Jealousy. Rejection.
Instead of learning from his teaching, they wonder where he got it from. Instead of believing that his power is from God, they question why he’s able to do these things. They actually seem to talk themselves out of accepting him. After all, we know this man, they say. He’s a nothing, a carpenter, one of the landless people.. He’s the son of Mary, we can’t even say for sure who his father is, apparently his birth was a bit of a scandal. Who does he think he is, teaching in the synagogue like someone important when in reality he’s no different than his brothers and sisters who live here with us?
We all have expectations don’t we, and it’s a challenge for us when our expectations aren’t met. The people of Nazareth had their own expectations of what a prophet sent by God would look like, and it sure didn’t look like this hometown boy who had cut and run on his family. And so they take offence at him. They reject him. Instead of accepting Jesus, they try to cut him down to size. Instead of celebrating the wisdom that God has given him, they try to bring him down to their level.
Is anyone surprised by this? We shouldn’t be, because we do it all the time. How often do we try to make ourselves feel better by putting down other people? How often do we harbour resentments and jealousy when people who are just like us all of a sudden become successful. Our response of acceptance or rejection has very little to do with what we are accepting or rejecting and a lot more to do with our own expectations and the wounds and insecurities deep inside us.
We learn a lot about ourselves from the things, ideas and especially the people that we accept or reject. And sometimes, like in these three stories, the picture we get of humanity isn’t very pretty. We can be self-seeking, trying to align ourselves with the winning side. We can be seduced by power or by fame. Our jealousies and insecurities can be more powerful than our search for truth or for what is right. Our fears and our scepticism can win out over our faith.
But that doesn’t have to be the case. Immediately following his rejection in his hometown, Jesus turns to the twelve followers that he has gathered about him. Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to go out to all the villages, to heal the sick and to proclaim the kingdom of God. Take nothing with you, give up your financial security, leave home and friends and learn to trust God for your needs. This is your mission if you choose to accept it. And the twelve do accept, and head out on their journey.
Because when we are confronted with Jesus, not only do we have to decide whether to accept or reject, but we also have to decide whether to resist or to partner. Jesus calls us into his healing work, and how we respond makes a big difference. Every day we have the opportunity to be partners with Jesus in his ministry of grace and healing.
And I want to say, you do this really well. As individuals and as a church community, I see you partnering with Jesus in bringing grace and healing to this city in so many different ways and places, and I appreciate it, and I want to thank you for it.
As we listen to these stories, as we read the gospel of Mark each week, we’re confronted over and over again with the same question: Who is this Jesus? Some will reject him. Others will accept him, and their lives will be changed and they become partners in his mission. How do you respond?
Homily Yr B Proper 14, July 8 2018, St. Albans
Readings: 2 Sam 5:1-5, 9-10; Ps 48; 2 Cor 12:2-10; Mk 6:1-13