One of my favorite books as a teenager was Watership Down, by Richard Adams. I might have been 13 or 14 when I first read it, and it shaped the way I thought about the natural world in a profound way. The book was written in 1973. And the statement the book made clearly was against overdevelopment and rampant suburbanization, all at the cost of the natural world. It was the 1970s, and this sort of growth and sprawl was becoming more and more prevalent. So Adams, the author, spun a wonderfully intricate story about a warren of rabbits in the English countryside. And it served as a metaphor for the human world. There was nothing special about these rabbits at all. They were just plain, ordinary rabbits. But one day, one particularly ordinary rabbit named Fiver had a dream — it was more like a prophecy, really. And in it, he saw the destruction of the warren and the deaths of many who lived there. So he warned his family. They didn’t listen. He warned his friends. They paid him no heed. And he warned the elders. They scoffed at him. Of course, by the time the prophecy comes true, it’s too late; most of the warren had died at the hands of land developers in heavy construction machinery. Fiver, and a small group that he convinced to flee the night before, survived and went on a quest to find a new land, a promised land.
Nothing special… By now, maybe you have noted the parallels between our reading today in Mark 6. Maybe you’ve made a connection the the Exodus account. You wouldn’t be the first. Why was this young rabbit named Fiver not believed by his own family, his friends and his elders? Because there was nothing special about him. He was, as we said, ordinary. In fact, on the scale of the rabbits in the warren, Fiver was seen as weak — a nobody. And yet not only does he receive the prophecy and convince a small group to flee; but inso doing, Fiver becomes the hero — the savior of what remained of the warren. It’s funny that we see Jesus in this reading today in much of the same light. Here’s a man in his hometown whom everybody knows as Mary’s boy, the carpenter, just that guy from that poor family — you know, Jesus, nobody special. And here comes Jesus, right at the beginning of his ministry. It’s a critical time. He’s convinced these twelve men to leave everything behind and follow him. His friends and family probably think he’s a little strange. They’ve heard stories that he’s been traveling around healing people. Yet, when it comes to his own people in his hometown, they reject him. A few of the people are healed, but the rest are unwilling to even listen to him. In fact, Mark tells us right there in Verse 3, “They were repulsed by him.” We read that Jesus was unable to perform any miracles there, except he healed just a couple of people. And when he saw their lack of belief in him, he was “appalled” (verse 6).
Roots We talk so much here about how we cannot understand the message of these scriptures if we don’t understand the context in which they were written. Things are just so much different today. Why was Jesus just so ordinary to his hometown? Why couldn’t he rise up and be special? Well, the first thing we need to understand is that in Jesus’s day and both in the Jewish and Roman worlds, it’s not what you do, it’s who you are. It really comes down to your roots. Again, your family name is everything in this culture, and no one from the lower class — the nobodies — will ever succeed, will ever become a somebody. It just isn’t done. So even if the people heard that Jesus had done these miracles, they won’t accept him because of his perceived lowly status. See, the people of Jesus’s hometown — Nazareth — KNOW Jesus’s roots. They KNOW this poor Mary who had a child with this older man named Joseph, who, by now, may or may not be in the picture any more. They know his brothers and sisters, and they know that he’s just a carpenter. Nothing special. And that’s why they refuse to believe him. Just like Fiver in Watership Down.
Shaking out sand I wonder what the disciples thought at this point about Jesus — the guy who they gave up everything to follow. Did they see how he didn’t convince anyone? Did they notice there were no miracles? Did they see Jesus dejected and angry that he was virtually ineffective — even in his own hometown? How would this bode for the very next section in our reading, when Jesus calls for the Twelve and tells them to go out in pairs and spread the Good News about Jesus. I wonder if there was some awkward silence, some sidewards glances… Still angry over the whole Nazareth scene, he gives the disciples an important lesson in faith: Don’t take anything with you. No food, no change of clothes, no money… “If a place doesn’t welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” I bet they thought they’d be shaking beaches of sand from their sandals in some of the places they’d be traveling to… I bet they thought they’d be rejected too. Everyday prophets Oftentimes, we miss the prophets in our midst. See, we’ve already made up our minds about them, about who they are, about what they are or are not capable of. Why? Familiarity, mostly. Isn’t it funny how that works? We might see someone we know as being “nothing special” and discounting what they say. We may see people who have much less — the poor and the homeless — and refuse to give them a voice. We may see people without any social or political influence, and barely listen to them. I remember after the high school shooting in Florida a few months back, a father of one of the dead students stood before the president, vice president and a small panel and pleaded with them, “Fix it!” he yelled. “Make sure it will never happen again!” It was heartbreaking to hear this father try to hold it together when he said, “My daughter’s not here anymore. I got to visit her … in (a cemetery) now.” But what was even more heartbreaking is the looks on the panel’s faces. At best, they were just letting him speak — humoring him — and all the while knowing full well they would do nothing to stop the next school shooting. And they still haven’t… They weren’t really thinking about making changes to protect schoolchildren. Why would they? This grieving father was a nobody. Not some expert. No one with political influence. Just a father who lost his daughter. They didn’t hear the voice of this ordinary nobody. They didn’t recognize the prophecy. It’s heartbreaking to know this probably will happen again. Importance We don’t listen to those we don’t think are important. In hindsight, we know Jesus was very important. That’s an understatement. But despite 2000 years gone by and the fact that we’re not living in the ancient Jewish or Roman world, we still fail to give voice to those who need to be heard. We fail to hear those with no influence. We fail to hear the Fivers in this world. Gosh, we fail to heed Jesus’s words…
Wisdom We’re given wisdom to discern. That’s a gift from God — when we ask for it. We don’t have to follow everyone who has something to say. We get to discern that. But we should listen respectfully to what they have to say, despite who they are, where they’re from or what their social or economic status is. We might know of someone’s character — someone in our families or in our hometowns — and we can discern. But we must give them a voice, too. Jesus basically fails in his hometown. I imagine he left there, and people just shook their heads as he trailed off. The disciples listened to him, tho. They heard what this poor guy from Nazareth had to say. They saw his commitment to God. And despite his lack of a prominent family, despite political or social influence, and despite that he was a nobody… …they believed. They believed. They listened, and they believed. And they went out just as Jesus asked them to, and they did nothing short of changing the world. About believing So what do we believe about Jesus? Do we come here and hear the word spoken to us and think, “Well, that’s just Jesus speaking there… We know all about him. We don’t really have to listen to what he says…” or maybe… “Well, you know, Jesus doesn’t literally mean that we have to love each other and give voice to each other…” “He doesn’t really mean that we have to examine our own hearts daily, then work toward bringing peace to others or working for social justice in this world…” “He doesn’t mean really having to stand in solidarity with those whose lives don’t really affect ours at all…” Sometimes, we’re a lot like Jesus’s friends and family and hometown. We’re familiar with some of the things that Jesus has done, but we really haven’t made the effort to look past the surface of things… We’ve not really plummeted the depths of who Christ is… We’ve never really committed ourselves to fully believing. It doesn’t always make sense… It doesn’t really fit our lifestyle… We’re afraid of what others might say — our families, our friends… We only go so far. “We’ll listen to Jesus, but we’ll only believe what’s comfortable for us.” What happens? Mark tells us, “They were repulsed by him,” and then what? “…and they fell into sin.” I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s an enormous lesson in this reading, and we should not overlook it. When they refused to believe, they didn’t just walk away, but they fell into sin. What is sin? Sin, again, is separation from God. It’s turning away from God. We might say, “Well, I have some faith, but I can’t really go all the way.” When we don’t have faith, we begin to lose our connection with God. When we don’t believe, we stop listening. When we disbelieve, we believe in ourselves and what this world tells us. This world is broken and imperfect; Christ is whole and perfect. Where should we put our faith? In ourselves? In the world? Or in Christ? Here it is, my friends. Here is the way to live — as Christ calls us to. Get to know Christ better. Listen to Christ. And walk in belief. When we walk in faith — and only in faith in Christ — only then will we be able to witness the change in our hearts and lives and others’ hearts and lives. That’s exactly what the disciples did. They didn’t turn around and go home. They didn’t shut out Christ. They didn’t separate themselves from God. They listened. And even if they doubted, they took the steps in faith. They heard Jesus. They believed. They changed their hearts. They changed others’ hearts. And they changed the world. Let us always take the time to get to know Jesus better. To understand what God wills in our lives. To hear the prophets speak to us from all stations in life. To discern the truth. And then go out and live in love, and go out and do nothing short of changing the world as Jesus calls us to.