Gospel: Mark 6:1-13
1[Jesus] came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
I am intrigued by the fact that our lectionary texts for Independence Day emphasize our dependence on God and our dependence on one another.
Relying upon the kindness and goodness of our fellow human beings is not something we do too well in our culture. We pride ourselves on our ability to provide for ourselves and those we love. We like to pay our way, to have our stuff, and to carry as much baggage (both literal and metaphorical) as we please. We have the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared” imprinted deeply within our beings. In doing so, we have sacrificed a lot without realizing it.
In other cultures, the idea of extending hospitality to strangers is still an integral part of the social fabric. A wayfarer through the town or village will find a meal, a place to lay his head, and a hearty welcome instead of five gallons of gas and the unsaid expectation that he please keep moving on. We fear the stranger. We loathe being inconvenienced or having our busy life schedules altered. Put yourself in the place of the household that would receive or not receive the disciples – what would you do?
By sending the disciples into the world in pairs without resources and means, Jesus teaches them and us a lesson about sharing responsibility and mutuality. We learn to live by faith, and we learn to trust one another, because we take care of each other. We are dependent on each other whether we like it or not. By learning to accept help as well as give it, the playing field is leveled. We learn how to be gracious givers and glad receivers. We learn that all people have something of value to bring to the table. Most importantly, we learn that to share the good news does not require a matched set of monogrammed luggage, a credit card, and a go-it-alone attitude. All it takes is a willing spirit, and a recognition that even that spirit, comes from God.
Ezekiel depends on God for strength and courage to preach a word, a message, to the people – even when God has already told him that the people won’t listen. Ezekiel knows that they won’t like what he has to say, and he knows that they will refuse to hear – but he still speaks the words God gave to him. For Ezekiel, the faithfulness lies in the telling. He is not to measure the effectiveness of his preaching by the response of the people. One of Ezekiel’s visions is actually eating a scroll, God’s word – and it tastes like honey! The heart of his ability to preach with integrity and authenticity lies in his ability to take the word of God inside himself, and to root his proclamation in the word as it transforms him, Ezekiel, from the inside out. It’s not about Ezekiel’s speaking abilities or persuasive talents – its about God’s spirit dwelling within him.
The apostle Paul recognizes the power of the spirit to transform lives, and that his success as a preacher and an apostle has very little to do with his abilities. Paul speaks of God’s grace and his weaknesses, realizing his total dependence on God is what makes capable – and not his own religious experiences, his own knowledge or his own good works or good attitude. Even with this thorn in the side – be in a person, or something of Paul’s past, or even some scholars have suggested mental illness – God uses Paul for God’s mission in this world.
Paul boasts quite a bit of his weaknesses, which makes me a little suspicious, when I think someone’s trying to hard. But that idea would be totally foreign to his readers – especially the gentile ones. In their view God makes you strong, rewards the strong, and a sign that God has blessed you is your strength. The very idea that God is present and active in our weakness would be shocking and counter cultural,
When Jesus send the apostles out – they are taking with them the bare essentials, totally depending on God to provide for them and depending on the kindness of strangers, so to speak for the success of their mission to spread the gospel. One of my seminary professors notes in his commentary that we haven’t heard about the disciples so far in the most encouraging terms. Do they really have what it takes to do this?? “In Mark 4, they fail to understand Jesus’ parables and need explanations. At the end of Mark 4, Jesus charges them of being fearful and lacking faith when he stills the storm, and they wonder, “Who then is this?” In a cameo role in Mark 5, they question Jesus for wondering who touched him in the crowd. Now, Jesus sends them forth to preach repentance, heal the sick, and cast out demons. Despite their lack of experience, understanding, perception, or faith, Jesus gives them their vocation, and sends them out…… We do have one thing those disciples did not, and it makes all the difference. We have experienced the faithfulness of God in Jesus crucified and risen. So, we may marvel at the unbelief around us, but still we go forth, proclaiming and practicing our faith in Christ.” ( https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-14-2/commentary-on-mark-61-13-2)
Is God calling you to weakness? Is God calling you into an uncomfortable place for the sake of the gospel? Or are you already in that weak and uncomfortable place looking for strength? Like Paul, we need not be afraid to admit our weaknesses, our dependence, to call a spade a spade, and a horrible situation what it truly is – in order that to learn to be dependent on those around us and to depend on god. Like the disciples, we may get it wrong sometimes, we may not understand. Like Ezekiel, we may risk the disapproval of our neighbors and friends, and perceive our work as failure. But God does not call us to be successful, God calls us to be faithful. We don’t have to try to pretend to be strong, or to be something that we’re not – we don’t even have to have the strongest faith, we just have to listen for the call. May God give you the courage to obey Christ’s call, to go where he leads, and to dare to share God’s love and forgiveness with the world.