2 Corinth. 12:2-10; Mark 6: 1-13
Happy Independence Day! Across this land families are firing up the grill, hitting the beach, perhaps indoor picnics because of weather, watching parades and preparing for fireworks tonight to celebrate our nation’s 245th birthday. For many it is a day of travel with the hopes to renew ties with family and friends, and hopefully find time for renewal of spirit after months of isolation spent because of COVID-19. More people than ever have taken to the road this weekend since before COVID struck.
Jesus is also a man on the go – but for a different purpose – a purpose to spread the freedom found in the kingdom of God throughout the land. Jesus crisscrosses the Sea of Galilee, and people are responding – amazed, filled with great awe and wonder, as Jesus preaches and teaches with authority, and performs deeds of power. As Mark leads us up to today’s passage, we have witnessed some of Jesus' most amazing miracles - the stilling of the storm on the Sea of Galilee, the healing of the demon-possessed man, and the restoration of Jairus' little daughter to life – and healing the woman with the hemorrhage. Now, seeking some rest, Jesus journeys back to his own hometown of Nazareth for a mini-break – downtime – maybe even a short vacation, as far as Jesus takes vacation.
Nazareth is not even named in this story by Mark – an ominous sign. Jesus took the time to teach in his home synagogue – but the astonishment he receives is not of the receptive kind he is used to – its astonishment rooted in doubt and hesitation. These are the people who saw Jesus grow up. How did he get to be so learned – so smart – so talented -- They wonder. They call him “the carpenter” – his identity of the past – he’s “the son of Mary” – a derisive remark since people were identified through their father’s name. Was this an indication of lingering doubts about Jesus’ birth? Isn’t he the brother of James, Joses, Judah, and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?' they inquire. So, they were offended at him -- they became angry and hostile. How dare he act better than the rest of them! After this, it was Jesus’ turn to be amazed – at the hardness of their hearts. Going to Nazareth was a great failure.
This is actually the third time that Jesus had tasted a glimpse of failure in his ministry – and all related to struggles with his family. In Mark 3, his own family labeled him crazy and tried to restrain him. Next his mother and brothers and sisters try again to remove him from his teaching ministry. Now here in his hometown -- his own people - he meets with rejection -- prompting him to say, "A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own relatives, and in his own house."
The disciples got to see for the first-time ordinary people who were against Jesus. But what was there to do? Stop the work? Go back to where it was safe – and remain there? No, Jesus decides to use this failure as an opportunity to expand. It was time to spread out even farther. This time he sent the disciples out --- to conduct ministry without him – on their own.
So, Jesus sent the disciples two by two, and gave them authority to cast out unclean spirits and preach the message of repentance. They were to take nothing for their journey, except a walking stick. No money, no bag, no bread – they were left entirely dependent on the good will of those whom they would serve. It was a mutually beneficial relationship, each side caring for each other’s needs. Sent in twos, Jesus stresses companionship and mutual support and accountability would be the foundation of his kingdom ministry. Jesus’ vision stresses we are interdependent – no lone rangers here.
So, Jesus sends out his disciples after the huge failure of Nazareth is fresh in their minds. Jesus’ acknowledgement of failure does not mean that he is sending the disciples out to fail. Rather, he is showing them how to carry on in the face of failure. Nobody likes to hear they are going to have to face failure in life. Jesus provides us with a way to see failure as part of the journey and move on can empower all of us to carry on when we fail.
Failure is a reality in the journey of life We make mistakes. We sometimes fail in profound ways – with the people who should be nearest and dearest to us. We yearn for family, we seek after connection, and sometimes our love for our family – or the hurts caused by our family -- keeps us constrained – homebound -- unable to follow with freedom the call Jesus places in our hearts. Home - Nazareth -- is always calling us to deter, to come back, to resume the old safe roles we once had.
To help us, Jesus teaches us to travel light because our journey become our home. Our fellow sojourners become our family of faith -- until we reach our true home with him in Paradise. So, we travel light – so we learn to depend on God and each other. We travel light so we can rebound easier when failure strikes, and we can shake our feet and move on. We travel light to not have our baggage get in the way of the new encounters and opportunities God is leading us to.
. In the face of rejection or failure, shake the dust off your feet and keep going!
Think of the sacrifices made by the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve signers had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.
Think of the failures in our own lives. Mistakes we can’t take back. Wrong choices that put us on a different path from what we had hoped or dreamed. Yet we learn from defeat and move forward with greater wisdom. It can be a launchpad to greater things. Think of how Paul understands the thorn in his flesh that he prayed to God to remove. God said no. My strength is made perfect in weakness God says. And so, we too persevere, despite the odds.
One of the most famous of basketball players of all time, Michael Jordan, is upfront about his journey of failure. He’s famous for being cut from his high school basketball team. He said, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Shake the dust off your feet and keep going!
When we listen to the exalting music of Handel's Messiah, we usually assume it was surely written by a man at the pinnacle of his success, but that is not the case. In fact, it was written after he had suffered a stroke. It was written while Handel lived in poverty amid bleak surroundings. He had suffered through a particularly deep night of gloom and despair over his failure as a musician, and the next morning he unleashed his creative genius in a musical score that continues to thrill and inspire us generations later.
Shake the dust off your feet and keep going!
On this Independence Day we are reminded that failures and mistakes, challenges and risks, in the hands of God, lead us to wholeness and freedom. That’s what Jesus did. Though for sure his heart broke, he kept going – preaching, teaching, healing and proclaiming good news. So today we celebrate freedom, and we celebrate Jesus, who in the face of our challenges calls us on the journey, to lay down our burdens and travel light, knowing wherever God leads us we have a true home. A home where we are freed from the confines of the past, open to the opportunities of the present, and assured an eternal home. Amen
Allison Pataki is the New York Times bestselling author of “The Traitor’s Wife, The Accidental Empress”, “Sisi: Empress on Her Own” and her latest novel “Where the Light Falls”. Allison’s novels have been translated into more than a dozen languages.