Proper 9 2021
A friend and colleague of my father went to work in Saudi Arabia for a few years. This was very lucrative – he quickly became a wealthy man. However, it meant spending large parts of the year away from his family, who lived in the same village as me. One day, the village was alive with gossip – his wife had placed an advert in the post office window for a butler.
People were scandalised – ‘who does she think she is?’ She quickly became a laughing stock and, although she found people to help with cleaning, gardening and shopping, she never did acquire a butler.
This is something akin to the situation in today’s gospel reading. Jesus preaches in the synagogue. At first people were astounded by what he said – here was someone really special. But then people remembered who he was: ‘Hang on a minute. Who does he think he is? This is Mary’s son; he’s a carpenter, not a prophet. He’s got ideas well above his station!’
Such was the sense of scandal and doubt about Jesus’ authority, that Jesus was unable to continue his ministry of healing. Mark tells us that he did little ‘except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.’
I wonder who these sick people were? We don’t know their names, but they were the very few who had the courage to ignore the gossip and scandal. They made their own minds up and went to Jesus, who restored them to health.
In many ways, those who go to church are like those very few people. Christianity is not in fashion these days. Christians are ridiculed by extreme atheists, rejected by people who see the church as an elitist clique and ignored by many who find more interesting things to do on a Sunday. So here we are, a few, faithful followers of Jesus.
It seems that among those who were scandalised by Jesus’ behaviour were members of his own family – Mark mentions his mother, his brothers, who are named as James, Joses, Judas and Simon, and his sisters who, along with many women in the Gospels, are not named. (Incidentally, it is thought that referring to Jesus as Mary’s son, not Joseph’s, was another way of demeaning Him – a reference to his illegitimacy.)
This rejection was the result of the honour and shame morality of Jesus’ culture. Jesus having ideas above his station would make his family a laughing stock – not just Jesus himself.
But something changed following all this. We know that Jesus’ mother, Mary, stayed with her son as he was dying on the cross. And Jesus’ brother James, became a leader of the church in Jerusalem.
James is remembered as James the Just. He wasn’t one of the twelve disciples; presumably because he was initially hostile to Jesus’ behaviour. But we are told in the book of Acts, that when St Paul arrived in Jerusalem to deliver money he had raised for the faithful there, he came to James. In Paul’s account of his visit to Jerusalem in Galatians, he states that he stayed with Peter and with James, the brother of the Lord. He was then referred to as an apostle. Something had happened to change the mind of his brother.
And people do change their minds. Jesus sent his disciples out in twos to heal, to anoint with oil – a practice connected with healing – and to proclaim repentance. Along with Jesus’ own teaching and healing, the disciples enabled people to change their minds. So the followers of Jesus grew in number – and it is because of them that Christians are here today.
This continues to be the job of Jesus’s disciples and followers today. We may not be eloquent teachers or miraculous healers, but we can all be witnesses. The presence of God by the Holy Spirit shaping the pattern of our lives and the living out of our faith in the world beyond the doors of the church – these should be evident to others either to repel or to attract. Jesus is clear that not everyone will be interested – the disciples were to shake the dust off their sandals where this was the case. But some will be interested.
After the impact of Covid-19, we look at our now small congregation and despair. How long can we keep going? What will become of our beloved building? The answer lies with all of us. A few people turn up by chance and enjoy a service, or are touched by a funeral, and stay. But others need to be brought – and that’s largely down to each of us as Jesus’ followers.
Now here we might suffer from the opposite of having ideas above our station. We are more likely to suffer from impostor syndrome: ‘Who? Me? Tell people about Jesus? How could I possibly do that?’. And yet that is our calling as followers of Jesus. A theology degree isn’t needed, nor skills in public speaking. I think what matters more than most is an awareness of what our faith means to us: what comfort it has brought: what difference it has made.
When we dwell on these things and live them more boldly, our faith will be apparent to others. And when we realise what richness we are given by our faith, we will be more prepared to bring others along so that they might also be enriched and blessed.
So, how has God blessed you? How has your faith shaped your life? Dwell on these things and live your faith simply, quietly and boldly in the place where God has placed you. Be prepared to give an answer when asked. Sometimes you may be given the chance to invite someone to share in what you have experienced. In this you will draw others to God’s love, and people will find their way here – to this small church of faithful people.