Preached at St. Cuthbert’s Leaside on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 5th, 2015.
Lections: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13
“And they took offense at him.”
There’s a great scene in the 1999 film ‘Dogma’ where, as part of a campaign (“Catholicism Wow!”) to renew the image of and interest in the Catholic Church, Cardinal Glick—played by George Carlin—retires the “wholly depressing” image of the crucifix in favour of a more uplifting image of Jesus—Buddy Christ. Buddy Christ is a statue of Jesus, smiling and winking while pointing at onlookers with one hand and giving them a thumbs-up with the other. This is the image, essentially, of an impotent Christ, a Christ who comes to be our cheerleader—a Christ who is on our side and agrees with us on pretty much everything. Not a Christ who is very likely to cause offense.
Come with me now into our gospel text where just prior Jesus had been bouncing around the Sea of Galilee doing all sorts of miracles. He calmed the storm, he liberated a man possessed by demons, he healed the woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for 12 years, and he raised up a young girl from death. And now he has come to his hometown, to the people who would have known him from childhood and he begins to teach in the synagogue on the sabbath. And Mark tells us that those who heard him were astounded: “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!”
These are good questions, questions having to do with the source and authority of Jesus’ deeds and teaching. Earlier in the gospel some of the teachers of the law from Jerusalem suggested that Jesus must be getting his power and authority from Beelzebub (3:22). Mark, however, tipped his hand in the very first words of the gospel: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” (1:1).
The Son of God. And yet, the hometown crowd could see only the son of Mary: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.” These questions are set up to be answered with a yes—yes this is Mary’s boy, the carpenter, and yes these are his friends and family here with us. But the answer is more complicated than that for Jesus has already made it clear that only those who do the will of his Father are his mother and brothers and sisters (3:34-35).
And they took offense at him. The Greek word here translated “took offense” is the word from which we get our English word “scandalized”. It means, literally, to place a stumbling block or impediment in the way. The hometown crowd perceived the powerful words and deeds of Jesus but refused to admit the source of his wisdom and power. They tripped up upon him.
I wonder if there isn’t a double offense going on here? From one angle, is part of the offense not that God would appear in someone so common as a carpenter’s son? That in the Incarnation—that is, the Son of God’s assumption of our flesh—God leaves absolutely no part of our humanity unclaimed. On the landscape of our human experience, there is no stone which God leaves unturned. He takes all of it, every last cell, every last desire, every last thought, he takes our beginning and our ending and every second of our human life therein and claims it as his own. As some early Christians put it, “that which he has not assumed he has not healed.” And so, in his very flesh Jesus takes all that it means to be human and heals it, fulfills it, perfects it, brings it to its proper end in God. And so Christians understand life, not as something which we can claim ownership of, but as a gift given to us by God in Christ Jesus, to be lived unto God.
So then, this is what is finally determinative of who we are. What matters, ultimately, is not who your mother is or who your father is, who your family is, where you came from or wherever you think you’re going. What matters, first-and-foremost, is that you are a creature of God and in Christ Jesus you have been reconciled to God and made God’s own, forever. If we want to talk about our identity, or the orientation of our life, let us begin here—Jesus Christ, the carpenter’s son, Mary’s boy.
From another angle, is part of the offense not that God would appear in someone so common as a carpenter’s son? That in the familiarity of human flesh we find something most unfamiliar—the very fullness of God. Who would have thought that the strength and wisdom of God would be made known in the life of one man, born of Mary, a life marked by humility and self-giving love, especially unto those who would reject him? Who would have thought that no where do we come closer to the face of God than in the face of Christ on the cross? Just here we find the great paradox of the Christian faith, for the strength and wisdom of God appear here, to the world, as weak and foolish: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” (1 Cor. 1:18).
Here, in Jesus Christ, God makes a particular claim on us—that we are, you and I, loved of God and thus creatures of His own fashioning. Creatures who sinned and who suffer the pain of our self-inflicted isolation from God, but creatures for whom Christ took this very suffering upon himself because this particular act, the self-giving of the Son for the life of the world, this is what God’s love looks like, and thus He proves it on the cross (Romans 5:8).
The God of the gospel, who we come to know in Jesus, is no Buddy Christ. Rather, he disrupts our lives, turns them upside down, and asks us to trust him in the process. Is it any wonder then that we might trip up, just here, upon Jesus himself? And so, in an effort to mitigate the discomfort, to soften the blow, what do we do? We domesticate Jesus, we shrink him down so that he fits nicely into whatever little vacant cubbyhole we want to place him in. We polish him up so that he’ll be more reasonable, more palatable, to the logic and tastes of the world. And I think when we do this Jesus is amazed at our unbelief.
If you are here this morning and you feel yourself drawn towards Jesus in some fashion, for one reason or another, but you are hesitant because there’s just something about the gospel that makes you feel uncomfortable, well then, thanks be to God. This may just be a sign that the Jesus you find yourself attracted to isn’t merely a Jesus that you’ve made in your own image. Take that sense of awe, that holy curiosity, and ask the Holy Spirit to nurture it. For Jesus says, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me,” (Matthew 11:6). Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ! Even if right now all you can do is cry out like the father who brought his son to Jesus to be healed: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Trust him! And let us see what God will do. Amen.