Mark 6:1-13 | Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Lectionary Project—Part of an ongoing three year project of weekly posts related to the Sunday reading from the Revised Common Lectionary. A study in practical theology.
This Gospel says that Jesus returned to his hometown, which in the Gospel of Mark is Capernaum. That is where his house was. (Yep, contrary to the popular belief that this grownup Jewish man was homeless, read Mark 2:1. And if you ever want to play Indiana Jones and go relic hunting, forget about the Holy Grail. Go to Capernaum and dig up Jesus’ house. Imagine the ticket sales.)
On the sabbath, he went over to his synagogue and sat to teach, and the people who gathered there were astounded. We don’t know why. Perhaps it was because of the things he was saying, or it may be just that he took it upon himself to teach. Either way, he offended them.
Their complaint, oddly, was that they knew him, or thought they did. They knew his parents, his family, their occupation, and so they did not think to hear anything marvelous from him. As he sat and taught in the synagogue, he missed their expectations. He overshot. He was more than they thought he should be, more than any of them wanted him to be, and they took offense.
We don’t expect much out of the people we know; for the most part, we don’t want much out of them. Try it sometime. Achieve any sort of excellence, and you will be surprised by the people who want to push you down to the level of their comfort. The achievements of others remind us of our own mediocrity. None of us like that sort of thing.
It is not so much that familiarity breeds contempt, although that happens when we live down to one another’s expectations. It is more that we have contempt for the familiar. We don’t pay attention to the things we think we know, and we do not like for them to surprise us.
Jesus could show these people nothing. No great miracles, no signs of great power—he could only heal a few of the sick, this Gospel says. It was perhaps the most he could do and not push the boundaries of their expectations.
He was amazed.
It was not that God among men had no power. It was that men stood beside God and did not wish to see. If the humanity in Jesus could offend them, imagine what the God in him could accomplish.
And so Jesus called the twelve to him, the dozen closest followers, all likewise known to the people who had begun to resent him. He sent them away. He sent them out, scattering like dust, and gave them no provisions except a kind of power to face the evil that they would encounter.
Jesus told them to stay with those who would accept them, but to leave behind the ones who would not. “Shake the dust off your feet as a witness,” Jesus told them.
Leave the dust as a witness, he said. A sign. To use the exact word chosen in the Gospel, the dust beneath their feet would be a martyr.
The dust beneath our feet came, as did we ourselves, from the ancient galaxies of space, the hearts of a billion suns. One sees only dust where others see the stuff of stars.
We may read this Gospel and walk away thinking that Jesus meant to leave those small minded and resentful people to choke on their own dust. We may also pay attention to the word, martyr, that gives a purpose to the dust, calling on the most ordinary thing in that dry land to remain forever as a witness to the most extraordinary presence of God.
Nobody can get rid of dust.
The people around us are seldom brilliant and marvelous. Most of them, most of us, are the poor, the ordinary, the small minded, and the resentful. We are as unremarkable as the dust beneath our feet, as numerous and as anonymous as the sand of a desert.
If the Gospel is true, God’s love must be without end. We are nothing special. We are only bits of animated dust, specks of sand, and yet the light of the stars makes us shine.
* Credit to NASA.gov for the marvelous images and the accompanying captions that you see in this post. If you have not visited the NASA.gov website, you should! Amazing work by entirely non-ordinary people. —C R Taylor