Seventh Sunday After Pentecost

S. Pentecost 7.24 Mark 6:1-13

And he marveled because of their unbelief.”

Familiarity breeds contempt. That’s the point of this pericope, in a nutshell. But just as we discussed last week how many struggle with Jesus not using his divine powers (like omniscience 😉 to know everything about everyone all the time as our Gospel last week showed he usually didn’t, so many struggle with the idea that familiarity could breed contempt of the Triune God, incarnate in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Isn’t love for God, delight in his company, the natural state for humanity? How is it then that the people who’d spent the most time with Jesus—his family and friends in Nazareth, who’d known him 30 years, seen him grow up, rubbed shoulders with him constantly—love him so little, don’t recognize him, won’t idolize him, or let him do mighty works for them, can’t fall at his feet in wonder, love, and praise every time they see him?—like the angels, archangels, and the whole company of heaven are always delightfully doing in heaven?!

Recognition is only part of the problem here, and not the largest part.

The US Olympic swim team has been camped out all week at the lovely outdoor pool where my masters team swims, so we haven’t been able to swim as usual. It’s a nice pool. The best in the world apparently love swimming outdoors on a hot, sunny day, in a perfectly chilled 80* pool, as much as the rest of us.

I’ve really missed it this past week. But Derrick, the pool boss, one of the lunch boys” (our own little rascals swim gang) texted last Thursday that he had a few lanes for us from 3-4:30 pm. So it was that 4 of us had the outdoor pool to ourselves on the 4th (doing a 4K set of all 4s), while the Olympians were on break. About 4 o’clock, hanging on the side, gasping for breath, getting a short rest, I notice a bunch of kids barging through the back gate in identical white t-shirts with funky red “Paris” lettering on the front, blue shorts, swim bags, sauntering along the deck with a few grown-ups, similarly attired.

I was about to ask “Who are they?” when I realized it was the US men’s and women’s Olympic swim team (the matching red, white, blue was my clue). But…they’re just kids! (I’m definitely getting old). I guess, incorrigible fanboy that I am, I thought actual Olympians would look… different, more god-like, more superhuman, and not like the visiting team at a Tuesday night summer league swim meet ready to race. Todd, their head coach, is an old swimming buddy of my friend Van’s. He shouts, gleefully, “Van!”, saunters over, and as they’re catching up, joshing, talking smack about how fast we used to be, suddenly we’re all just kids again in the shared love of a favorite sport at summer swim camp.

So, I guess we should cut the Nazarenes a little break when the Triune God shows up in the flesh, Joseph the carpenter’s son, sauntering into the synagogue, no lightning bolts flashing from his hands like Zeus on Mt. Olympus, no thundering voice, no blinding golden halo, just that fast kid from summer league you used to race. “Hey, I know this guy! He’s a friend of mine from work!”

But, their childish love of heroes is easily supplanted by… “the unmagnificent lives of adults.”

Because, as I said, recognition is only part of the problem with Jesus. Because, while the US Olympic swim team might be the fastest summer league swim team in the world, they are metaphorical not actual Olympic gods. And, out of the water, they just look like kids!

But Jesus is God!—towering over Zeus—the Triune God incarnate, in whom all the fullness of the Deity dwells! And when he opens his mouth and talks with his family, old friends, former teachers, all who heard him are astonished because, though deeply hidden under a more ordinary appearance than Clark Kent’s, the deity cannot be denied. It’s… HIM! But instead of falling flat on their faces in worship, they… complain! “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, son of Mary, kin to James, Joses, Judas, Simon and their sisters?

And they took offense. But why?

How can you be offended when not just a Greek demigod like Zeus or Apollo descends from Mt. Olympus (showing off a bit 😉 but the One, True, Triune God HIMSELF! appears to us, magnificently, though convincingly, disguised as one of us—a little more hobo-like, beat and cool than most of us, but unmistakably true God for all that? How does this offend you?!?

Well, let’s go back to to the beginning, literally, the first 3 chapters of Genesis for an answer to that excellent question. God used to come, sauntering, joshing with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening breeze in the Garden and his company was, well… Paradise for them.

But then they broke faith with the LORD. Eating the forbidden fruit, wanting to be God, themselves, wonder, love, and praise turned to jealousy, hate, and offense…

So, when the LORD came strolling (in human flesh we must assume, the very flesh of Jesus) in the garden after their eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve did not chase and find, but ran and hid. Because God’s power and might are now disconcerting rather than delightful.

In his mercy, God makes clothes of animal skins to hide their nakedness, and promises that though their lives will now be short, difficult, and troublesome, he will transfigure their suffering by coming as the Son of Eve to bear it all himself, to instill in us once more the childish love of racing, the hero-worship that delights all kids.

This is how familiarity breeds contempt: when holiness, righteousness, justice become annoying to us—when adult self-regard drives out the childish worship of and love for our heroes, then wonder, love, and praise turn to envy, hate, offense…

Instead of God’s power and might delighting us the way super-heroes delighted us as children, and meeting them in person was our un-secret aspiration, simply yearning for the teensiest bit of their super-powers to rub off on us, even if just a little (hero-worship is a childish trait that is essential for us to recover, as Jesus says, frequently: because it is the chief joy of heaven! ;-).

See how the sin we got from Adam makes us take offense? Instead of delighting in God’s greatness, we bristle at our comparative lowliness. Now, Jesus doesn’t do this, but the OPPOSITE! He glories in our… lowliness!

This is why I said recognition is the least of our problems when it comes to rubbing shoulders with a true god. Until hero-worship, simple adoration of what is immeasurably above us—but which we aspire somehow to share—becomes our childish faith-state once more, we’ll scorn him.

So; Jesus hides enough of his glory and power to get us all chasing after him again, that, in the racing, our adult self-regard might be lost in the childish wonder, love, and praising of faith. Then, Peace, surpassing all understanding’s guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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