Saturday, July 7, 2012

Amazed At Their Disbelief

8 July 2012/Proper 9B – Second Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10/Mark 6:1-13
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Timothy’s School for Girls, Stevenson, MD
He Was Amazed At Their Disbelief

A shepherd and a carpenter. One chosen by God to consolidate power and strength for Israel, the other sent by God to give it all away. David – the prototype for God’s anointed leadership. Jesus – God’s anointed, God’s Word, God come down as one of us – God in the flesh. David fortifies Jerusalem and turns it into a citadel on a hill, calling it the City of David – in contrast to its name, Jerusalem, which means City of Shalom, City of Peace, City of God’s Shalom: peace and justice for all persons. Jesus enters the City of David on a lowly beast of burden to offer himself as a sacrifice for all. David meets with the “elders of Israel” and is their chosen king and defender. Jesus challenges all religious and political authorities answering to no one but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. David marshals great armies to conquer enemies and protect the city. Jesus sends his rag-tag followers out two-by-two to cast out demons and heal the sick. David is the Empire. Jesus is the alternative to the Empire.

Jesus and David: a study in contrasts. And yet, both are chosen by God in their respective eras to be God’s anointed messenger. The message? Love God and love neighbor.

And yet, in his home town, he is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. The people, his hometown people, are “astounded.” Where did this man get all this? He has wisdom and power, and yet he’s just a carpenter. We know his family. He’s just a neighbor kid. Then the text says, “And they took offense at him.” No pride, no excitement, no support – they are offended. Unlike with David, the elders do not come forward to acknowledge his power and certify his leadership. We are told simply that they are offended.

Jesus pretty much shrugs it off. This is how Israel usually treats its prophets. Note the sly irony as the narrator offers this: “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” Except! He heals a few sick people. That’s all! No hard feelings. He continues to do that which somehow offends them – he heals the sick. Then he moves on. He packs up his power and his followers and moves on. Perhaps there are others who will appreciate what this carpenter has to offer – eternal life.

The hometown crowd is astounded and offended. Jesus is amazed – amazed at their disbelief.

At moments like this most people would consolidate their power. A David would refortify the walls of the city, hunker down and take a stand – make a play, make a point. David would call the elders, the authorities, the leaders of the community together and make a plan. A leader like David would assert and declare, “This is my city – you will now call it The City of David.” We know this kind of leadership all too well. Political maneuvering, assertions of power are all too familiar. We are in the political season of consolidating power, money and access to power.

Jesus, on the other hand, moves on to the next town. Once there notice what he does. Instead of asserting his power, instead of astounding people with his wisdom and works of power, he gives it away. He gives it all away.

He does this by commissioning his disciples to go out two by two. Notice how when there is kingdom work to do, God’s work to do, Jesus does not send us on our own, but with at least one other partner in ministry. Note also, they are to travel light: He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.

In other societies, in other religious traditions, this is normative. Among Hindus and its reformed cousin Buddhism, it is expected that at some point in your lifetime you will head off, wandering from town to town, bowl in hand, learning to depend on others for your survival. It is meant to be a lesson in humility and a lesson in interdependence.

We forget that this is how the Biblical story begins – a group of people who were no people, who had been a disparate group of slaves, wandered together for forty years learning to depend on God and others. Independence was discouraged. Independence does nothing to bring home the message: to love God and to love neighbor. To love God and neighbor is an invitation to interdependence – learning to rely on the generosity of others so that we might become more generous people ourselves.

Jesus invites those who follow him to go back to the original story – to participate in traditions that had evolved in the lands of the east, of the Indus valley – to participate in the kind of life that leads to love of God and love of neighbor. A life that is not at all about the consolidation of power – economic, military or otherwise. This is his reaction to having been rejected in his hometown: he shares his power with others, and sends them out to give it all away.

It is an astonishing story really. It ought to leave us astounded. It ought to make us think differently about power and the use of power. Again, in Hindu tradition, it is believed that power and money need to stay in circulation for the health of the whole community. Such ancient wisdom is in short supply these days – except in the religious traditions that are reservoirs of such wisdom.

Religion gets blamed for many things, much of which is unfair. Religion rarely gets credit for preserving ancient wisdom essential for life lived in the present. Love of God and neighbor demands equal amounts of humility and interdependence – qualities we are led to believe we have no time to pursue.

And yet, the healing of individuals, of communities and of the world community depends on such qualities. Time spent learning and cultivating such qualities will, in the end, lead to eternal life. As the late great Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple once put it, “The source of humility is the habit of realizing the presence of God.” Will we take the time to cultivate such a habit? Or, like the hometown crowd, will we be astounded, but ultimately offended? And, as Rabbi Hillel once asked, “If not now, when?”

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