“You Can’t Go Home Again”Rev. Kirsten Hancock Mark 6:1-13 Year B – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost. (Proper 9)
At the end of Mark 5, Jesus sternly tells the disciples and witnesses not to speak of a dead girl brought back to life or a woman touching His garment and being healed by only her faith. A lot has just happened but “He strictly ordered them that no one should know this and told them to give her something to eat.” I think in our 21st Century, Jesus’ words are, “Be quiet about this and feed her now.”
In Chapter 6, Jesus continues teaching and walks through his hometown of Nazareth. As Jesus walks through Galilee with His Disciples, He encounters some folks from His hometown who have nothing better to do than yell names Him. We can assume they are probably in Jesus’ home town of Nazareth (Culpepper 187) “Isn’t this the carpenter? The son of Mary…” Mark 6:3 (Mark, Smyth and Helwys Commentary, R. Alan Culpepper, Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2007.)
Emerson Powery observes their description of him…ignores any mention of a father figure. Such would have been a direct insult on Jesus’ character in first-century culture, hinting aloud enough for everyone to hear. Powery, Emerson P. in True to Our Native Land, (Brian K. Blount, General Editor) Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 200. Page 133)
Many great writers have had thoughts about hometowns and what they are or become in relationship to us. Thomas Wolfe wrote “You can’t go home again.” Bill Bryson, another American writer, states his opinion of returning to one’s home town, “There are things you just can’t do in life. You can’t beat the phone company. You can’t make a waiter see you until he’s ready to see you and you can’t go home again.” Chicago White Sox baseball player Sam Ewing said, “When you finally go back to your old hometown, you find it wasn’t the old home you missed but your childhood.”
Jesus is passing through his hometown and there were probably no waiters in cafes along the way and certainly no phone companies, but with the heckling and rejection, I’m sure Jesus realized He would never go home again. And I imagine Jesus probably missed His parents and working with his father and hanging out with His siblings.
In all translations of Mark 6 verse 3 reads that “they [the townspeople] were offended at Him.” Mark tells us that Jesus was not offended by these hecklers. I believe Jesus had a perfect backbone given to Him by His Heavenly Father. Though the Markan Gospel (as well as John) never mentions Joseph, Mark 6:3 is the “only Gospel to give Jesus the title of carpenter.’(Oblates of St. Joseph, (https://osjusa.org) Matthew and Luke’s account of Joseph, father of Jesus, indicate Joseph positively influenced the character of his firstborn son.
The rejection by His hometown weighed on Jesus heavily. This Scripture passage tells that Jesus valued his reputation in Nazareth, yet he couldn’t do God’s will there. “Jesus said to them: ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.’ He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.” (NIV) The NRSV verse 6 reads “he was amazed at their unbelief.” This return to the scene of his childhood was devastating.
When I was 25 years old, I was still pursuing a childhood dream of returning to my hometown and running for U.S. Congress someday when my Congressman, who was a friend, retired. This was a childhood dream I pursued for many years. I believed I could go back home, become a teacher and establish myself in the community to achieve this dream. The thing I didn’t realize at the time was that the political climate drastically changed, I had changed. Returning home after seven years away, going to college, traveling abroad, living in Washington, DC and organizing around the country changed me. When I returned to West Texas, I was a fish out of water.
My dream of getting married in my hometown by age 30, becoming Junior League President and a mother of two was not to be. My hometown, in a way, rejected me and I moved back to Washington, DC at age 30 to pursue politics in a different way – through community organizing, teaching in inner city schools and completing a seminary degree with hopes of tying together all these passions.
Some who do not know my story occasionally suggest to me that I go back to my hometown and I chuckle, no I laugh out loud almost defensively, at this suggestion. If one doesn’t know me well, then you won’t understand that I had that dream, tried it and painfully grieved that ambition for a long time. I realized, as Thomas Wolfe wrote many years ago, that “You Can’t Go Home Again.”
When I read Mark 6, I feel deep sadness with and for Jesus. Using my paradigm, I think Jesus was devastated at the rejection in Galilee. Expectations are a cruel fact of life. We don’t tell that to children. We teach them to dream and that if they want it and work hard enough, dreams come true. I believe from this passage that part of Jesus’s dream was to go home to His family and be acknowledged by His community—by those who watched Him grow up and knew Him from childhood. However, when Jesus went back seeking that, He could no longer draw Power as he could elsewhere. The ridicule was too much so Jesus moved on to do more miracles in an environment where people were receptive to what He offered. Often in life, we must listen to God, observe reality of situations and move on.
I think Jesus imagined going back to Nazareth and finally being understood or welcomed at the very least. Instead, His childhood friends made fun of Him. On top of that, His new friends, the disciples, were clueless as to Who He is, and we see our Savior process the loss of a dream and certainly coming to terms with expectations which now need to be adjusted. Even Jesus had to look to His Father to adjust His expectations and purpose on this earth. I wonder if, perhaps, the absence of the birth story and Joseph in Mark, is to focus on the importance of Jesus’ Heavenly Father, as He walked among the people.
The other common thread throughout the translations of this passage is that in verse 6, Jesus wonders at the Disciples’ lack of belief in Him after He performs a few more miracles. It’s as if He is saying, “How dumb can you be? I’m healing sick people in front of your eyes. Don’t you see Who I am?” Emerson Powery states that the Disciples’ disbelief “challenges Jesus’ ability to perform healing miracles. At first, the text said that he ‘could do no deed of power there’ then it adds an exception. On the one hand, Jesus’ healing ability is closely aligned with the faith of others when he desired to do so.” (Powery page 133) Powery, Emerson P. in True to Our Native Land, (Brian K. Blount, General Editor) Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 2007.
After the hometown revelation, Jesus begins preparing the Disciples for God’s work. Maybe it is in processing the loss of expectations that His focus begins to shift, not on what He will accomplish, but maybe what He can leave behind in a broader context. If His childhood friends won’t believe Him, then maybe they’ll recognize the Power of the Disciples.
Jesus gives the instructions on what (not) to bring – staff and sandals, which is the only Gospel that records what Jesus tells the disciples to bring. In verses 7-11, Jesus instructs the disciples to go out in pairs, advises them on how to enter homes (pastoral presence) and to dismiss those who don’t accept them. The message of Jesus suddenly becomes more urgent as Jesus sends out His followers and instructs the disciples how to rid others of demons during this time. “They not only anointed the sick with oil but cured them.” (Mark 6:13)
The irony of Jesus and the disciples’ healing cannot be overlooked and makes for a poignant moment of spiritual clarity for us today. Jesus does not have the people’s belief or the disciples’ support with Him at the beginning of this passage and is therefore, unable to perform the miracles outlines in the previous chapters. However, once Jesus instructs the disciples and walks beside them, they can do unimaginable miracles with His belief in them.
The Risen Savior’s belief in us allows us to do miraculous things. We see this in the Disciples’ capability, even though they don’t recognize who Jesus is! When we understand the Power of the Lord, and the magnitude of what He can accomplish through us, He can turn broken dreams into successes. He can use us in our hometowns or far beyond in places we never would have imagined. Amen.
About the writer:
Reverend Kirsten L. Hancock serves as Interim Associate Pastor of Faith Formation. Woodlands Baptist Church, San Antonio, Texas. A native of Guymon, Oklahoma, who grew up in Abilene, Texas is a graduate of Baylor University. She worked on several political campaigns before obtaining her M.Ed. in Gifted Education from Hardin-Simmons University, while teaching 8th grade U.S. History in Abilene, Texas.
Kirsten was a political organizer with state legislators and taught in DC Public Schools. She earned her M.Div. from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC and completed 5 units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Baptist Health System in San Antonio, Texas. Kirsten is a sustaining member of the Junior League of San Antonio and VP for Events for San Antonio Zeta Tau Alpha Alumni Group. She is the youngest daughter of Dr. Omer & Mrs. Judy Hancock of Abilene, Texas.
Scripture and Music:
2 Samuel 5:1-5
2 Samuel 5:9-10
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Tell Me the Story of Jesus (Story of Jesus)
What a Friends we Have in Jesus (Converse)
Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Footsteps of Jesus
I am Thine, Oh Lord
I Have Decided to Follow Jesus
Open My Eye That I May See
Take My Life, and Let It Be Consecrated
Trust in the Lord (Settings by Letha Crouch or Dan Goeller)
Here I Am, Lord