Text: Mark 6:1-13 W 5th Sunday after Pentecost
A Prophet without Honor in His Own House
In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, dear friends in Christ: One of most dearly loved children’s stories of author Hans Christian Andersen is the one about The Ugly Duckling. I’m sure you remember it. It begins with a mother duck sitting on nest full of eggs, all of which hatch more or less on time—except for one unusually large egg. Though she’s encouraged by the other ducks to give up on it, she, ever the good mother, is determined to see the thing through. At length it does hatch revealing not another cute, yellow fuzz-ball like her other offspring; but a tall, gangly, gray creature which instantly becomes the target of merciless ridicule and cruelty by his siblings and all the other animals of the barnyard and the millpond. Only his mother is able to show him any sign of acceptance; but in time even that is not enough to overcome the terrible abuses that all the other creatures heap upon him, so he is forced to flee. After a series of misfortunes and a bitter winter exposed to the harsh elements, the ugly duckling returns the following spring. To the surprise and astonishment of his former persecutors he has grown into a beautiful and graceful white swan. Now, suddenly, they regret the way they treated him; now they wish that they could vicariously share in his glory through association with him—though that honor is denied them.
I suppose the moral of the story, if it has one, has something to do with not judging a book by its cover and, more to the point, not judging people by initial impressions or outward appearances. Anyway, though the story is familiar, you may not know that it is, in a way, autobiographical; for Hans Christian himself was a tall, gangly, ungraceful child with ears, feet, and nose all thought to be much too big for his spindly frame. He was teased and tormented ruthlessly in his younger years by people who thought he would never amount to anything – all of whom were no doubt surprised when as an adult he was considered quite handsome, but even more importantly, that he became well known for his outstanding achievements in music, in theater, and, of course, in writing. It’s a story we see repeated in the lives of many truly great and innovative people. As children they are thought to be unruly, scatter-brained misfits; but then they go on to accomplish brilliant things. Interestingly enough, it’s often their very “differentness” that later makes them so successful. And then it seems everybody in their hometown wants to climb onto their coattails and enjoy a little fame by association.
How very different is the story we have in today’s Gospel lesson. In it, Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth – the place he grew up and in which he lived from the time he was three or four until he was about thirty years of age. Now, I’m not suggesting that Jesus would have been considered unruly or unintelligent by the people of his hometown; but do I suspect that the sinless nature of his character did make it difficult for him to socialize in what we would consider to be a normal way. I mean, what must people have thought of the kid that always seemed to be too nice, too honest, and too helpful? Who never seemed to complain, was never mean to anyone, never got bored and sulked around as teens are wont to do; a kid who never engaged in mischievous pranks? Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure he got along with everyone and that he was highly respected for his hard work and skill as a carpenter—but don’t you think that folks would have thought that he was just a little weird? I know that I would’ve hated to be one of his younger siblings: “James! Joses! Knock that off! What’s wrong with you two? Why can’t you be more like your older brother, Jesus?” Ooh … that’d get old real quick. My point is that while no one would have said anything directly ill of him; they must have thought him to be something of a misfit—which indeed he was: a perfect and guileless soul immersed in a sea of sinful people; though certainly they wouldn’t have understood it that way. To them he would simply have been Jesus the carpenter … who though a very good and respectable man, has always been just a little strange.
But that was before he went away some six months earlier. He’d gone down to the Jordan where John was baptizing, and he hasn’t been back since. But ever since then, the most amazing reports of his activities have been filtering back into town. It started with just a few scattered rumors, but before long it became an almost daily tidal wave of news. Now the word is that Jesus, the rather eccentric carpenter, has become an overnight sensation as an honest-to-goodness prophet of God. Why, if even half the reports are to be believed, he’s already done more and more spectacular miracles than Elijah and Elisha combined. And they’re saying he’s a great teacher too, who is explaining the Scriptures in such lucid and vibrant terms that he holds crowds enraptured for hours on end. Can you imagine? Jesus, who’s always seemed to be a rather strange duck, has become a full fledged swan. Some people are said to be speculating that he might even be the One: the Lord’s Messiah sent to redeem his people Israel. And the latest reports say that he’s on his way back here to Nazareth. He’ll be preaching in our synagogue this coming Sabbath.
And so it is that the Lord’s house, the synagogue in Nazareth, is packed when that day finally arrives. Everyone who knew Jesus when he was still a nobody is there. The benches are full. It’s standing room only. Heads sway back and forth and necks stretch as people try to get a glimpse of the local boy who’s become a celebrity. There’s a hum of excited whispering in the air. And then the service begins. There is first the call to worship. Then there are psalms and hymns and prayer. Then for the first time everyone gets a good look at Jesus as he stands to read from the Holy Scriptures. And then all is silent as he sits down in the teacher’s chair to begin to preach.
His message is unlike anything they’ve ever heard. He speaks with authority and conviction. He uses compelling images and imaginative illustrations. He makes the Word of God come alive and he applies it directly to the heart of each one of his hearers. When he speaks of specific sins, there’s uncomfortable shifting all throughout the crowd – even by those who are considered to be especially good and righteous people. And when he speaks of the heavenly Father’s love and forgiveness—his promise to send a Savior, he creates a longing in their hearts to know fully the joy of this salvation.
It’s an absolutely wonderful message – everyone agrees … and yet when he concludes, it falls almost completely flat. After a few moments of reflection on his words, a low murmuring begins as people turn to one another and say in hushed voices, “Where’d he get this stuff?” “Where did he learn to speak like that?” How’d he become such a Bible scholar? What makes him so wise in the ways of the Lord? It can’t be. It doesn’t make sense. This is just Jesus – Jesus the carpenter. We knew him when he was just another grubby, snot-faced kid running in the streets. We know his family. We saw him grow up. Now he makes furniture. We know for certain that he hasn’t had any formal education beyond grammar school. What is it with this guy? Who does he think he is?
And we are told they took offense at him. Actually the Greek word says they were scandalized. They had a deep down, visceral, negative reaction to him. Why? Oh, probably for a lot of reasons. I suppose that for some it was envy: how is it he became the celebrity when he’s no better or different than me? Others probably saw him as a threat to their authority and position. The elders and leaders of the synagogue, for example, men who thought they knew the Scriptures like the back of their hands, didn’t like being upstaged by this young upstart. “After all, we taught him everything he knows.” Certainly the self-righteous among them (and that would be everyone to some degree) would have been unsettled. “Can you imagine, he’s saying that I – I – need to repent? How dare he suggest such a thing!” And I have to believe that many of them were upset with him simply for turning out to be more than they imagined. They don’t like thinking that they were wrong about him. Besides, him looking good makes me look bad. And that’s unacceptable. So despite his command of the Scriptures, despite his outstanding message and the grace of his words, despite his obvious wisdom, despite even the miracles he performs, they reject him.
In response Jesus tells them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own house.” And we’re told that he was unable to do many mighty works among them because of their unbelief. Their lack of faith tied his hands, so to speak, so that he couldn’t do the work that he wanted to do there; only a few scattered healings of the sick. Then he left them to take his saving message and his healing power to others who would hear and believe and be healed.
The loss, of course, was theirs. But the indicting words that Jesus spoke to them ought to be ringing in our ears: “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own house.” My friends, we are the family of Jesus in this place. This is his house. Most of us grew up with him, and for that reason we think we know him pretty well. Could it be that there’s more to him than we allow? Could it be that we are dishonoring him in some way? I mean, if you understand what Jesus is saying, it becomes clear that those who are outside the church cannot dishonor him. When people who don’t know Jesus say outrageous or insulting things about him, or when they belittle the Holy Scriptures, they are speaking only what comes naturally from their spiritual ignorance and their sin darkened minds. Therefore strictly speaking, they can’t dishonor Jesus. They don’t know who he is.
It’s only we who do know him that can dishonor him. And the thing of it is we often do it right here in his own house. How? Lots of ways. Most obviously when we don’t bother to come. Think about it: we call Jesus God, Lord, and Savior. And we understand that he actually comes to meet with us here in very unique ways – in his Word, in his Sacraments, and in the fellowship of the faithful. Weekly he extends to us the invitation and the opportunity to receive more of himself and his powerful presence – which has the power to radically change our lives for the better. What do you think it says to him when comes Sunday morning and we say, “Eh. It’s just Jesus. I won’t be missing anything.” You’d better believe that Jesus is dishonored when we fail to be here to hear his Word.
We further dishonor Jesus when we fail to believe that his Word is true. This can be blatant, like when we come across a Bible story and think, “I just don’t think that really happened that way.” That’s actually common in more liberal church bodies. There’s an assumption from the start that the Bible is comprised mostly of myths and legends. And though we are not above that, among us denying the truth of Jesus’ Word is likely to be more subtle. It’s more of a filtering out of those parts we find personally offensive. Like where the Scriptures describe the distinct and complimentary roles that men and women ought to be taking in the family and in the church – and, well, we think we know better. Or when we read that those who claim to be faithful Christians and yet continue in sins such as fornication, adultery, homosexuality, theft, greed, underhanded business practices, drunkenness, and character assassination – that such people will definitely not inherit the kingdom of God – and then we write ourselves a waiver: yes, but it doesn’t apply to me and my sin of choice. What is that except to call Jesus a liar? Surely that dishonors him.
We also dishonor Jesus when we believe that his Word is not powerful. It happens, for example, when in our evangelism and outreach efforts we think we must resort to gimmicks and various bait and switch tactics to attract unbelievers to the church – rather than rely on the pure, undiluted Word of Christ itself to do the work of convicting hearts and creating faith. We do it in our personal lives when we doubt that the power of God’s Word to kill our sinful flesh and evil desires and to raise us up again as new creatures who walk in his way is sufficient to destroy our own ungodly appetites. “No, not even Jesus can work in me to overcome my temptations.” And we do it with our interpersonal conflicts when we imagine that there is a rift between family members or other members of the body of Christ that are simply too big for Jesus to heal. “You don’t understand. There’re too many hurtful things that have been said. Too much has been suffered. Not even Jesus can restore peace and harmony to this relationship.” That is naked unbelief. And by such thoughts and attitudes we – the members of his family – dishonor Jesus.
And we dishonor him in other ways, like when we willfully disobey his Word – either by doing what we know he doesn’t want us to do, or by failing to do what we know we should. We dishonor him when we take his forgiveness for granted and abuse his grace by treating his Gospel as permission to sin—you know: it’s okay as long as I repent afterwards. And we dishonor him when we imagine that we know him and his Word too well – as if there’s nothing else to learn or no more room to grow in our relationship with him. Every one of us is guilty of dishonoring Jesus right here in his own house – and for that reason – on account of our unbelief – he is unable to do many of the mighty works he wants to do in and among us. We tie his hands. And the loss is ours. And if you are not careful, the loss might be permanent. He might take his powerful Word and saving presence away from you and you might lose your place in his house forever.
And that is why each one of us needs to repent and turn again to him who comes here week after week patiently reaching out and offering himself and his power freely to us despite the dishonor we have heaped upon him. We need to turn to him who comes willing to be dishonored if that’s what it takes to save us – and not just here by us; but more importantly, by his Father in heaven. That’s where the Prophet was truly dishonored: in his heavenly home. He, the Son of God, was dishonored by bearing our sin and shame. He was dishonored by enduring the punishment we justly deserved when his Father made him who knew no sin become sin for us and nailed him to the cross. There Jesus made our losses his so that we would not need to suffer loss. There he allowed himself to be dispossessed so that he could secure for us an eternal place in his Father’s home.
And that is why his Father raised him up and now honors him. That is why his Father has crowned him with all glory, power, and dominion – for the sacrifice of love he willingly made of himself to reconcile us to God. And now he sends him back here to us – the One we keep treating as the ugly duckling – as a glorious white swan among the infinitely lesser and dirtier creatures of the barnyard and the millpond. He comes not just so that we can honor him for what he has become and perhaps share in his glory by association with him. No, he comes to destroy what we are by nature so that he can raise us up with him as glorious white swans who share in his honor and glory by what we have become through his work.
Therefore let us all repent of dishonoring him here in his house. Let us receive his message and believe his Word of forgiveness that we may be healed, and so that his hands would be untied and free to continue his mighty work of transforming us to be like him. And let us honor him who comes to bring honor and glory to us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!