A Prophet without honor

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 7, 2024, Proper 9: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

“Jesus is coming in 2031” the sign held by the street preacher on London’s Oxford Street said. What an odd sign, I thought. Such a strange combination of precision and vagueness. And it was far enough in the future to seem a bit unreal. What am I supposed to do in 2024 to prepare for 2031? But also, if the sign had told me that Jesus was arriving tomorrow, what would I do? I’d probably say that I was unlikely to trust a random guy standing out on the street.

I thought of this man as I read today’s gospel. The Jews of Jesus’ time believed a messiah was coming, but they were not sure when. So when Jesus showed up at his home synagogue, teaching, the response is perhaps predictable. We know this guy, we know his mother, brothers, and sisters. His sisters are with them. “And they took offense at him.” You can imagine their thinking: who did he think he was? why should we believe him?

Jesus, amazed at their unbelief, “could do no deed of power there”. He told his disciples that “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And it’s true. Whether it’s our siblings, or people we went to school with, it is hard to let go of who they were when we first knew them.

Jesus’s response is to leave his home, and head to the villages around. Then he asked his disciples to take a risk. He sent them off in twos, ordering them to take nothing for their journeys. They had authority over unclean spirits, and were to go out to preach repentance, heal the sick, and cast out demons.

I imagine the disciples on the road giving much the same impression as the street prophet with whom I began. They come to town and tell everyone to repent. Does anyone listen? Would I? Would you? If not, Jesus has told them to move on.

Like the people of Israel, we struggle to hear the prophets among us. And mostly, we do not want to hear them. But here’s the thing: Jesus is not coming in 2031. Jesus is here, now, asking us to pay attention. And often we don’t: not because we don’t want to, but because we don’t recognize him. Jesus isn’t coming to us like that, is he? The messiah can’t be that guy we knew when! She does not look the way we expect Jesus to look. And so on.

In our baptismal covenant, we are asked to “seek and serve Christ in all persons”. But if we are honest with ourselves, we don’t. And it is not just the poor and needy: we say “all persons”, and I often find it harder to seek Jesus among the rich and powerful. As we go through the week ahead, it is worth thinking about who in the world, near or far, is speaking to us for Jesus. What are we missing because we cannot see Christ in particular people?

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