Sunday, 5 July 2015

‘Is not this the carpenter,
the son of Mary …?’

‘Christ in the House of His Parents’ (1850) by John Everett Millais

Patrick Comerford

Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin,

5 July 2015,

The Fifth Sunday after Trinity,

11 a.m., The Parish Eucharist


Readings: II Samuel 5: 1-5, 9-10 or Ezekiel 2: 1-5; Psalm 48 or Psalm 123; II Corinthians 12: 2-10; Mark 6: 1-13.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

I just love coming home on these summer evenings.

Imagine the scene, some evening in the past week.

You have come home, eaten lightly, and you decide to sit out in the back garden or on the terrace, with a good book or the newspaper, perhaps you’ve poured yourself a glass of white wine, and put on some Mozart or some soft music in the background.

Or maybe you just want to laze back in front of EastEnders or your favourite soap, without anyone knowing.

Or you are more energetic and you ’phone a friend and arrange to go for a walk in the park.

You’re ready to enjoy the summer evening and the evening sunshine – and the doorbell rings.

Standing there are two fresh-faced young men, in dark suits that are inappropriate for this weather, satchels over their shoulders, and they want to talk to you, about the Watchtower, or the Book of Mormon, or something like that.

Telling them “No thanks, we’re Anglican,” or “we’re Church of Ireland” is hardly a scary thing these days. If anything, it makes them persistent. Being Anglican, you simply cannot be rude, not on your own doorstep.

But if you are not rude, if I am not as persistent as they are, there goes that summer’s evening.

I wonder if it was like that for the disciples sent out by Jesus in this morning’s Gospel, two-by-two?

No, I am not in any way comparing Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons with the first Christians … I do not even concede that they are Christians. But their experiences may have something in common.

Did the Twelve, as they were being sent out two-by-two, in six pairs, think they were being set up? Set-up for failure?

If you were one of the 12, who would you like to have been paired with? Who would have been fun to be sent out with, door-to-door, knocking on houses?

And who would you not like to have been paired with? Judas the Betrayer? Thomas the Doubter? Peter the Denier, flailing about and drowning in his own words? John – too young, too naïve and too enthusiastic? James or John with a mother too ambitious for their own good?

It is sometimes said that at least half the Twelve would never get through a selection conference for ordained ministry today. Half of them might have been no fun on the road either.

Anyone in HR or management knows the problems of mismatching people in pairs in work teams. Personality clashes arise even with the nicest and the best of people. I know … been there, done that.

So why did Christ send the Twelve out in twos, in pairs that are inevitably a set-up for some – many – forms of failure? We have no idea whether any pairing was successful … or, for that matter, a failure.

But perhaps it was an early immersion experience in giving and receiving hospitality. They are not sent out, at least in this passage they are not sent out, to raise money, to sell Bibles, to baptise new believers, to promote the brand … they are just asked to teach and to heal.

And they are told that they must be ready for rejection, that they are facing failure.

‘The Shadow of Death’ (1870-1873) by William Holman Hunt

In this reading, Saint Mark tells us that Christ is faced with rejection in his own hometown. He has returned to his hometown in Galilee, and he is spoken of in ways that, put together, amount to a very public rejection.

He has returned to his hometown in Galilee, and he is spoken of in ways that, put together, amount to a very public rejection. He is spoken of as “the carpenter” ὁ τέκτων (ho tékton). Now, as we all know, 1, being a carpenter is a very positive, beautiful craft exercise – look at the beauty of this church and imagine it without the contribution of arts-and-crafts carpenters, from the hammer-beam ceilings to the stalls, pews and panelling.

And 2, the word τέκτων in the New Testament describes a variety of people with interesting skills, including architects, planners, singers and poets.

But in a way that any of us who has lived in a small community, or in a small town, knows only too well, they are looking down on him. Other people are describing him as Rabbi, Teacher … even Lord. But never let him get above himself … let him always remember that he began his working life at the lathe and with the saw and hammer, wood and nails … the very way he is going to end his life too.

And he is described as ὁ υἱὸς τῆς Μαρίας (ho uios tis Marias), “the son of Mary.”

In a small community or a small town, just in case you forget, people can always tell you when you return: “We know who your people are.”

They know Jesus is the son of Joseph the Carpenter, they know where he was brought up, they know his mother, his family, as they say in some Irish villages, they know his “seed, breed and generation.”

Unlike two other Gospel writers, Saint Matthew and Saint Luke, Saint Mark provides no lengthy genealogy for Jesus, back through David, the Prophets and the Patriarchs (see Matthew 1: 1-17; Luke 3: 23-38).

But to refer to Jesus as “the son of Mary” is be dismissive, is to rob him of his legitimacy.

Christ already has had a difficult homecoming in this Gospel (see Mark 3: 19-35). So we are presented with a stark homecoming story where he is teaching in his home synagogue and is robbed of his reputation, his role and his legitimacy.

His healing and teaching ministry in Capernaum, on the seashore, throughout Galilee, is already well-known. But back home, in his own synagogue, he is rejected.

How do we respond to rejection?

Sometimes, we take stock, readjust, and move on.

Sometimes, we walk away in anger – the “I’ll-never-come-back-here-again” attitude.

Sometimes, our desire for acceptance is so strong that we buckle under and accept what others say, so that we become quiescent, conforming, uncritical operatives.

Sometimes, we seek comfort – comfort in parental figures, or inappropriate comfort in alcohol, distracting hobbies or even inappropriate relationships.

Sometimes, we accept the images others project onto us, so we remain imprisoned and never become ourselves fully and holistically.

Sometimes, we stand and fight … we stand on our dignity and aggressively assert ourselves, setting ourselves up for another put-down.

And sometimes we draw on a little bit of each of these defensive responses. We each know that we have responded with a little of one and a little of the other responses at different times, in different situations, to different people.

We say things to family members that we would never say to neighbours or employers; we say things to employees that we would never say to our own family members.

What does Jesus do this morning?

His response is often quoted but seldom understood. He actually understands where the people of Nazareth are. It’s difficult for them, but it’s not difficult for him.

It is passage which in the Greek has four poetic openings to phrases in the space of three verses: οὐχ οὗτός εἰσὶν ... οὐκ εἰσὶν ... Οὐκ ἔστιν ... οὐκ ἐδύνατο ... (verses 3-5). No, no, no, no way.

In the face of this strong negativity, Jesus does nothing, apart from laying his hands on a few people and healing them, apart from treating as fully human those who are on the margins and rejected in the community.

And then, instead of arguing, showing off, trying to prove who he is, or heading off to the Nazareth Arms, he continues his teaching in the neighbouring villages, and prepares the Disciples for similar responses in their mission and ministry.

We hear nothing about the experiences they had when they were sent out two-by-two. We know not whether they were successes or failures by today’s standards … we have no way of measuring their effectiveness, for there are no sales targets in the mission and ministry of the Church, there are no profit margins to boast about.

They go out in all their weaknesses, in their vulnerability – to each other and to the world – to live hand-to-mouth while on the road, with nothing to boast of but Christ.

The Apostle Paul responds clearly to those who would want to measure living the Gospel by these standards. Look, he says, I could boast too. Others are boasting about their visions and revelations, and he could boast in the same way too (II Corinthians 12: 1-4).

But he refuses to boast, lest anyone have too exalted an idea of him (verse 6), and he has a “thorn ... in the flesh” (verse 7), whatever that may be, that keeps him from “being too elated.”

Instead, he boasts of his “weaknesses” and accepts his condition “for the sake of Christ” (verse 10). When he feels weak, he is most effective in showing God’s power and being a “true apostle” (verse 12).

There are people in the Church today who are rejected and marginalised. Why, who do they think they are?

And there are people who sit in judgment on them, who believe they alone have access to a secret knowledge that permits them to make exclusive claims not only for Christ, but for their interpretation of the Church and the Bible.

They boast of exclusive revelations; they claim to speak for the only true Anglicans; they play power games in contrast to the self-emptying of Christ and the weakness of Saint Paul; they reject and deride any other interpretations of the Bible but their own; and they boast of their success based on filling pews and holding large conferences.

But size and numbers seem to disguise and excuse negativity and bigotry. None of this matches the self-emptying displayed by Christ in our Gospel reading, the humble practices he recommends to his Disciples, or the way Saint Paul lives out his life.

True success may only be found in the heart, in the words of the Collect in serving God in “holiness and truth.” For we honour God, as our Post-Communion Prayer reminds us, not only with our lips but also with our lives. And the true fruit of that may be seen in how we love God and in how we love others.

And so, may all we think, say and do, be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Inside Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin … (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached at the Eucharist in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, on Sunday 5 July 2015.

Mark 6: 1-13:

1 Καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ἐκεῖθεν, καὶ ἔρχεται εἰς τὴν πατρίδα αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἀκολουθοῦσιν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ. 2 καὶ γενομένου σαββάτου ἤρξατο διδάσκειν ἐν τῇ συναγωγῇ: καὶ πολλοὶ ἀκούοντες ἐξεπλήσσοντο λέγοντες, Πόθεν τούτῳ ταῦτα, καὶ τίς ἡ σοφία ἡ δοθεῖσα τούτῳ καὶ αἱ δυνάμεις τοιαῦται διὰ τῶν χειρῶν αὐτοῦ γινόμεναι;

3 οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ τέκτων, ὁ υἱὸς τῆς Μαρίας καὶ ἀδελφὸς Ἰακώβου καὶ Ἰωσῆτος καὶ Ἰούδα καὶ Σίμωνος;

καὶ οὐκ εἰσὶν αἱ ἀδελφαὶ αὐτοῦ ὧδε πρὸς ἡμᾶς; καὶ ἐσκανδαλίζοντο ἐν αὐτῷ. 4 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι

Οὐκ ἔστιν προφήτης ἄτιμος εἰ μὴ ἐν τῇ πατρίδι αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐν τοῖς συγγενεῦσιν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ αὐτοῦ.

5 καὶ οὐκ ἐδύνατο ἐκεῖ ποιῆσαι οὐδεμίαν δύναμιν, εἰ μὴ ὀλίγοις ἀρρώστοις ἐπιθεὶς τὰς χεῖρας ἐθεράπευσεν: 6 καὶ ἐθαύμαζεν διὰ τὴν ἀπιστίαν αὐτῶν.

Καὶ περιῆγεν τὰς κώμας κύκλῳ διδάσκων. 7 καὶ προσκαλεῖται τοὺς δώδεκα, καὶ ἤρξατο αὐτοὺς ἀποστέλλειν δύο δύο, καὶ ἐδίδου αὐτοῖς ἐξουσίαν τῶν πνευμάτων τῶν ἀκαθάρτων: 8 καὶ παρήγγειλεν αὐτοῖς ἵνα μηδὲν αἴρωσιν εἰς ὁδὸν εἰ μὴ ῥάβδον μόνον, μὴ ἄρτον, μὴπήραν, μὴ εἰς τὴν ζώνην χαλκόν, 9 ἀλλὰ ὑποδεδεμένους σανδάλια, καὶ μὴ ἐνδύσησθε δύο χιτῶνας. 10 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Οπου ἐὰν εἰσέλθητε εἰς οἰκίαν, ἐκεῖ μένετε ἕως ἂν ἐξέλθητε ἐκεῖθεν. 11 καὶ ὃς ἂν τόπος μὴ δέξηται ὑμᾶς μηδὲ ἀκούσωσιν ὑμῶν, ἐκπορευόμενοι ἐκεῖθεν ἐκτινάξατε τὸν χοῦν τὸν ὑποκάτω τῶν ποδῶν ὑμῶν εἰς μαρτύριον αὐτοῖς. 12 Καὶ ἐξελθόντες ἐκήρυξαν ἵνα μετανοῶσιν, 13 καὶ δαιμόνια πολλὰ ἐξέβαλλον, καὶ ἤλειφον ἐλαίῳ πολλοὺς ἀρρώστους καὶ ἐθεράπευον.

1 He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘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! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church
is governed and sanctified:
Hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people,
that in their vocation and ministry
they may serve you in holiness and truth
to the glory of your name;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Post Communion Prayer:

Holy and blessed God,
as you give us the body and blood of your Son,
guide us with your Holy Spirit,
that we may honour you not only with our lips
but also with our lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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