“What on earth?” Friday Meditation. 6/12/20. Alan Neale.
Trinity Church, Newport, RI

Mark 6 1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

In these few verses we are confronted again with the profound, pervasive, thorough-going humanity of Jesus. We note his need (yes, I said need!) to withdraw from busy and power-draining ministry, his need (yes, I said need!) to return to a base in which he feels “at home” and we note his need (as well as theirs) to be accompanied by his disciples, his friends. Christianity is not meant to be and cannot be a solo adventure; but then authentic and thriving humanity is not to be and cannot be a solo adventure.

These painful, weird, exhausting weeks of physical isolation have taken a toll on all of us, though maybe some are still in that strange land of denial? The challenge we face to reach out and ask others for help, for attention, for companionship is tough enough for most of us at our best… this time has exacerbated the withdrawal dynamic horribly. Listen again to these three crucial statements for a lively and functional humanity… “I can’t do this. I don’t understand. Please can you help me?”. I suggest you and I rehearse these statements often in our prayers and often in our general social intercourse with others.

So fully man yet also fully God, Jesus does not set himself above the need for spiritual disciplines and healthy regular practices and so on the Sabbath… there he is, in the house of God with the people of God on the day of God – this is a tremendously powerful trinity that we have lacked for months but thank God for telephones, email, social media and the divine gift of Zoom (and all its corollaries!). By the way, one of the great things about Zoom is that everybody has their name under their picture… at last the challenge of persuading church people to wear name tags has been conquered!

Mark tells us that “Jesus began to teach” and the word used for began insists that this was not only a crucial and ever-present part of Jesus’ ministry but that he would forever and for always have more to add to his teaching. We need our hearts to be warmed, we need our wills to be strengthened but we also need our minds to be instructed otherwise the detritus of this world’s communications will overwhelm our minds, stifle our thinking and cripple our reason.

As Jesus was teaching so his listeners were astonished; listen to definitions of this word that Mark uses: “ “strike out of one’s senses”, i.e. with the outcome of being utterly amazed (dumbfounded) or left “at a loss” from witnessing the incredible (causing the viewer to gape in astonishment).

I am convinced through forty years of parish ministry that when God’s word is preached and shared with understanding, with conviction, with authenticity then the Christian and the Church will grow. Sadly they were doubtless amazed because, to quote Matthew, “Jesus taught them with authority and not like the religious leaders”.

Friend, no time is ever wasted as you and I give time to listen, to learn, to reflect and to apply. Now teaching takes place in many forms but that it takes place is crucial to functional and growing spiritual life.

Much to my surprise I find I am towards the end of my time for this meditation though there is so much more to be said about this passage; so my next meditation will comment on verses 3-6. For the moment, suffice it to say that the reason Wendy and I moved from UK to US was not because “a prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home”; though without a doubt it has been a liberating and joyous experience to share the Gospel in our country of adoption.

God bless you all.