The Word This Weekend – July 8, 2018

The Word This Weekend – July 8, 2018
“Knowing Him Best, Knowing Him Least


The Rev. Dr. William L. Hurst
FLCS Senior Pastor

Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. (Mark 6:4-6)

Dear Companions,

This weekend presents us with another well-known Gospel narrative -- the rejection of Jesus by the people of his hometown. It also offers up an important issue for modern-day followers of the Nazarene: that those who claim to know him best may actually know him least.

The setting for this episode is Jesus’ hometown. In Luke’s telling of this story, the village of Nazareth is identified, and this small hillside village is generally denoted as the place where son of Mary and stepson of Joseph was raised. Little more than a cluster of extended families, this out of the way hamlet is where we suppose that Yeshua Ben Josef came of age. We can easily imagine him running with his friends, playing ball and doing chores, sitting with Papa Joseph at the lathe and with Mama Miriam helping with grinding grain, hanging the laundry along the ropes, and generally functioning as children and teenagers do in every village culture. Who knows: he might have even gotten into a little trouble in the streets of Nazareth, or quibbled with all those siblings the villagers knew as the family of Joseph and Mary. An ordinary kid, from an ordinary family, living an ordinary existence in an ordinary time and place… 

And maybe that’s the problem for those Nazarenes, now confronted with who he has become. The adult Yeshua -- teaching with godlike authority, driving out filthy demons and restoring the sick to health – is anything but ordinary. “Who is this?” they ask, amazed, astounded, and perhaps just a little offended by his presentation as the Messiah in their midst. Or a lot.

The story tells us that the failure of these villagers to accept or acknowledge the power and purpose of the Christ actually impedes his ability to do the deeds of power he is routinely doing in the other towns and hamlets of Galilee. Apparently, those who think they know him best actually understand or accept him least – at least the Yeshua as he truly is, and what he actually says, and what he really does, in his role as the Savior God anoints him to be for them and for the world. Sad, really, that those so near can in reality be so far from understanding his revolutionary message and purpose, locked as they are in a well-worn set of assumptions and biases as to who he should be, rather than who he is.

The story is told of two men on a long cross-country flight – one of them a thick-accented non-Christian foreigner, and the other a well-to-do Texan. As a committed Christian, the Texan spends the long aerial sojourn doing what he feels is his duty as a believer – witnessing to this non-Christian man about the life and ministry of Jesus, in the hopes of winning a convert to the faith. At the end of the flight, he asks the target of his evangelistic efforts, “So, after all I’ve shared, what do you think of Jesus Christ?” The answer comes back clear and strong: “Well my friend, the more you tell me about this Jesus, the more he sounds like a well-to-do Texan.”

As a cradle Christian, born into a middle-class American Protestant family, surrounded by communities that felt they knew Jesus best, I still struggle to extricate my way of understanding Jesus from the familiar contexts and frameworks taught me from childhood. My upbringing, like that of many of you, blended the Gospel message with a wealth of churched-culture verities, and with a hefty set of other dominant culture values and unexamined assumptions. Among my circle of friends and family, reared and inundated with the easy Christianity of my youth, I grew up believing that I knew Jesus best – and that, generally, his views aligned with mine. What I failed to recognize – and what these subsequent decades of experience keeps teaching me – is that the Jesus I have thought to have known the best might actually be the Yeshua that I have known the least. 

Lest we become that arrogant Texan on the plane, I think we dyed-in-the-wool Jesus folks have to come to terms with the fact that familiarity may not have become contempt, but perhaps something far worse: complacency, myopia and hubris, in the face of his world-upending message and purpose for us, and for the world. And the antidote for this “cult of familiarity” lies with his words and deeds themselves – the actual Christ we meet in the actual testimony waiting for us to discover anew in the scriptures.

Because the truth of it is that what so royally disturbed Jesus’ Nazareth neighbors ought to disturb and challenge us no less. The truth of it is that he seems to have preferred to embrace the outsiders, those on the underside of life, women and gentiles and Samaritans and Romans and sexual sinners, and that massive plethora of the unwashed and unwelcome that he came to wash and welcome. The truth of it is that he elevated to “blessed” those who suffer, or grieve, or are persecuted for doing right, or seek peace when the world says, “War.” The truth of it is that he seems to have reserved his harshest critiques and diatribes for those who claimed to be religious insiders, or those most highly rewarded by life’s fortunes, or those who failed to note that when we point one finger of judgment or condemnation at others, three fingers point back at us.

The harsh yet liberating truth of it all is that to know Jesus best, we must begin by admitting that, in our sin and pride, we may actually know him least. And, really, what if this is the true path to understanding and receiving him in the fullness of all he has to offer us – and through us – to a world of brokenness, need, rejection and injustice? What if following him means clearing our minds and our palettes of all the easy assumptions that his ways are our ways, his thoughts our thoughts? What if the path to seeing and loving him aright begins with seeing in him the “other” -- and, in his name, seeing the “other” all around us as his true presence in our midst?

One thing I know for sure, in the midst of all I don’t know, is this: that on the dark Friday of our salvation, he directed his redeeming mission to all those people and cohorts who knew him least: hometown skeptics and erstwhile disciples, power brokers and powerless peasants, ultimate insiders and reprobate outsiders. Sinners all -- whether they believed themselves so outside of grace that it could never reach them, or so proud of their pedigree or status that they really didn’t need that grace at all. “Father, forgive them -- forgive them all – for they just don’t know what they’re doing.”

I hope to join with you at worship this weekend – whether here in our Torrance sanctuary, or wherever you may bow your head and heart to seek him anew. And may the Christ who heals our every ill, and in his resurrection raises the dead by grace through faith, meet us in the midst of Water, Word and Table – those who know him best, or least, or not at all. May we know him, in all his fullness – and, through him, be rededicated to knowing and loving each other as he would have us do.

With You in God’s Good Work,
Bill Hurst