Proper 9 · Mark 6:1-13 · July 5, 2009
By Travis J. Scholl
Here we are at the first week of July—Fourth of July weekend no less!—and the Gospel of Mark gives us no “summer vacation” from its cruciform sense of faith, discipleship, and the way of Christ. In this text (a continuation of last week’s Gospel text from Mark 5), Jesus has returned to his “hometown.” He is returning from his preaching tour of the Gerasenes (5:1), where he had been amazed by the faith of those on the outskirts of the promised land, particularly the abiding faith of one he calls “daughter” (5:34) and one he calls “little girl” (5:41). The terms of endearment are striking in the retrospective of his return home, where his own original family seems to share litde affection for the course of life their eldest half-brother has taken.
Of course, perhaps their lack of affection is only in response to his. The “offense” (v. 3) that is taken by the local yokels hearkens back to Mark 3:31-35, where Jesus has essentially disavowed himself of his blood ties. Or at least opened up those ties to a much broader family. “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother,” he had said (3:35). Those of us who are claimed by his Father in Baptism, and who now do his will in the new life he clothes us with, are part of this new family.
I suspect that in any given congregation, there are those who have been around long enough that they feel like they know everything there is to know about their “hometown” parish. And there are those who are still new enough that they feel like the crowded-out woman who only wants to touch the Master’s cloak (5:25-34). If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, Jesus of Nazareth has a prophetic word for all of us, new and old alike. Whether or not we honor the Prophet’s work among us is a stickier business (v. 4). Verse 6 is a terrifying indictment: Jesus reciprocates their amazement at his power (v. 2) by being “amazed at their unbelief.” That is always the hazard of a homecoming: the one who returns may not be received for the person they have become. Too many in Nazareth would trade Jesus-the-Prophet’s hands of power for the former hands of Jesus-the-Carpenter. Of course, how he deals with their (and our) unbelief is work left to Jesus-the-Christ.
In the meantime, Jesus leaves for the villages (v. 6). And he sends out the twelve, two by two, bestowing upon them the power and authority that come from his own hand (v. 7). But their discipleship is not without cost. Jesus warns them that they will likely have to “shake off the dust that is on [their] feet” in those places that do not honor the work of prophets (v. 11). The austerity of their mission is a hint that the only power they need comes from God. In discussing the parallel pericope in Matthew, the sainted Martin Franzmann poignantly writes, “The SPIRIT of the mission is the spirit in which Jesus worked—no small-souled care for self.. .but His confident dependence on God, the Lord of the harvest, who will provide food for His workmen, who give freely what they have freely received” (Concordia Self-Study Commentary, NT, p. 25). The same is true for our mission as the people of God—”sisters” and “brothers” of Jesus—in these austere times.
But Mark does not dwell on the rejection; he saves the best news for last: “They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (v. 13). The news is so amazing that it reaches the desk of King Herod (w. 14ff). Perhaps Mark knows what we know. The joy-filled astonishment of sheer faith born of water and Word always outweighs the amazement of unbelief. On a final liturgical note, it is worth marking the recent renewal of periodic services of anointing in many parishes. In my own experience, I have seen them become meaningful personal rites of healing, occasionally administered after services for all who wish to stay in the quiet of the sanctuary. Given the wondrous closing to this week’s Gospel reading, this eighth Sunday after Pentecost might be a fitting occasion to start or continue the practice.