Saturday, July 25, 2009

A prophet is not without honor

He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On 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! Is 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 offence at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 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. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If 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.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

- Mark 6:1-13

In this passage, we get a taste of what jealousy does. Jesus goes to his hometown. He teaches on the sabbath in the synagogue. And lo and behold, his own neighbors and the people who seem to have known him and his family all of his life are simply astounded. Where did he learn all this? How did he become this person? They even are aware of the great deeds of power he's done. Don't we know his family? Isn't this the guy we always knew who was the son of Mary? The neighbors and townspeople are simply astonished.

But - their astonishment awakens in jealousy. They're offended by the gifts he has, the wisdom he has, the healing power he displays. They are offended by his authority. Whatever it is that he has now, which is truly a part of his person and character, they don't like it. In my study bible, a note says that "jealousy affects faith." Well, I think we can read this as a sort of vision of what it is to possess a gift that others can't necessarily account for, a gift from God. Although Jesus freely shares what is his by nature - this grace and power of God - he is no longer one of them, and this simply stirs their resentment. I think that we can take this as kind of unfortunate human characteristic that it is possible we all could experience if we change because God has graced us as well.

When people change in a way that is positive, often their old friends, family and acquaintances aren't necessarily happy about it. There is a sense in which someone who's made a great change for the better, through faith, through grace, is rocking the boat. The traditional balance everyone is used to, the identity and even character of the person has shifted. This can happen in many types of instances, whether someone be healing from a bad habit, an addiction or negative behavior, or perhaps changes due to insight, a gift of wisdom, develops even a gracious helpful nature: rocking the status quo and even growth is sometimes an upset to the way things are so that it results in a form of rejection, offense, due to jealousy.

Jesus declares that ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ He can do none of his tremendous acts of power there that have astounded everyone, because of their unbelief. He's simply able to do a few healings. We're told "And he was amazed at their unbelief." Even for Christ himself, it is astonishing what jealousy will do. We recall the archetypal sin of envy as the root of rebellion in heaven, and it is important to come to know its significance in our relations at all times. I have found it amazing to me, as well, at times when I least expect it. We know what modern sensational crimes it leads to, as we read in the newspapers of children bullied and harassed to suicide. A competition that encourages one to do their best is one thing, a competition that must destroy others or belittle them is something else altogether, and deeply spiritually unhealthy.

But Jesus' response is to send his apostles on their first mission. This is a great undertaking of faith: they are to take no preparation with them - only one staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. As he resumes teaching among the villages, he begins to send them out two by two, and he has graced them with power. He gives them authority over unclean spirits. Their instructions are careful: they're not to change the first accommodation they're offered for another, and if they are rejected, they are to shake the dust off their feet in rebuke and move on. This is an action of sending out (apostolos means "sent" in Greek) in complete humility. Perhaps it is not by accident that we are given the incidents of jealousy and refusal of recognition of Jesus in his hometown in the previous paragraph. One reason to practice humility is to avoid the competition of jealousy that stands in the way of honest understanding and faith. What is important is that their message, and the power that Jesus shares with them, be heard. This is a message of repentance, of preparation for the kingdom. It is also a form of mercy and healing merely that they are sent to begin with. Those who do not wish to hear are rejecting them for their message, and the rebuke therefore is given in honesty, in fair judgment, and not because of their jealousy.

When we open our hearts, it's important that we understand that within ourselves there, too, we may find obstacles to this healing nature. The fear of envy is one thing: if we change, the wrath we may experience from our friends who are used to us one way may be fierce. Faith develops in an absence of such fear and envy, but we, too, can be plagued by the actions of fear and envy nevertheless ourselves. It's part of human nature. One way of practicing repentance is to be aware of ourselves and our weaknesses when we encounter wisdom or a gift that's come from grace, and to watch our own responses.

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