When Jesus makes his way back to his home town they are amazed and offended and consequently Jesus could do no act of power among them. They recognised Jesus in terms of his family ties but not in terms of his identity as a wisdom teacher or powerful healer and certainly not as Messiah. Why would those who knew Jesus best be the least receptive to him? (RCL Ezekiel 2; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; and Mark 6:1-13)
Well, let’s begin with Mark’s own account. Now back in chapter 3 Jesus’ family had been concerned that he was out of his mind, and the scribes accused him of being in cohoots with Beelzebul. Remember that when his mother and siblings come to see him he asks who are his family and answers his own question “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Then there were the parables about the nature of the kingdom of God. And then immediately prior to this story we have had three episodes which symbolise Jesus’ great power – the stilling of the storm, the exorcism at Gerasa, and the healing of the two women including bringing them back to life. No less than the power to change the world. And now we are back to family and others who do not get who and what he really is all about. Mark not only wants us to understand that Jesus’ family, neighbours – and half the time his disciples – did not realise who they were in the presence of and therefore did not respond appropriately.
Mark also wants us to consider that Jesus’ message pointed to a higher priority than family power and obligation! Now this was a radical and less than welcome message for many, for in ancient society everything – commerce, law, religion – all centred around the family unit and people did not really have an identity separate to it. So Jesus’ teaching and behaviour cut across the most tightly bound expectations and obligations. Did he hate family? Not in any personal sense and in places he defends the commandment to honour one’s mother and father. But he did critique an understanding of family belonging and obligation that made people – especially the vulnerable: the women and children and the physically and mentally frail – possessions of others. Jesus called people to a greater and even more demanding understanding of family – that of community, the family of God that particularly included the poor and the oppressed.
Now some of us may be uneasy about having notions of family questioned much less dismantled. Some of us will find relief and liberation in being freed from our particular families or hometown expectations that are too limiting and don’t allow us to be us. But all of us might feel a little faint at the thought of the sort of greater belonging that Jesus had in mind for it was not a quaint belonging to the family of all like minded souls and dolphins and rain forests and things we like. It was a very demanding belonging to and with the struggling, the demon possessed, the leper, - with the side that often loses.
No wonder Jesus’ family and neighbours didn’t get him – he was a thorn in all their sides! To those who loved him he must have seemed to have caused unnecessary grief and hardship. For those who knew his supposedly normal enough childhood he must have seemed to have given up on normal standards and beliefs and therefore in some way to have attacked their way of life. We can only conjecture.
And how do we live that out in our families, our neighbourhoods?
If you are like me then you want to get on with your neighbours, to either attract no attention or only the right kind. If I am to be known for anything I would want it to be for being kind and helpful, wise and generous. Isn’t that the Christian thing, the good Samaritan kind of neighbour that we are called to be? Well yes. And we know from elsewhere in Scripture that we are to be as salt, as leaven in the bread. We are to be good neighbours who proclaim and live out the good news. Our warmth, our helpfulness, our positive outlook, should all point to the source of our love, our hope, our faith – to our Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ.
And yet if we are good neighbours to those in need, to all in the neighbourhood who are in need including the interloper, the homeless, the colourful ones who bring down the value of our homes and bring difficult issues in their wake, then we will stir up questions about our sanity and our own belonging.
By our baptism we are all called to mission and ministry, however we might understand that to look in our particular situations. Whatever we mean by mission and ministry it will include how we live at home – in our families, our friendship circles, our work places, and in our neighbourhoods. And Jesus warns us, and St Paul warns us, that we risk rejection. If we are not only kind but also critical of the values that place property values before concern for affordable housing for all; if we are generous not only to those who can reciprocate but also to the maybe not very deserving; if we identify the source of our security in the love of God and not of a particular brand of superannuation and share portfolio, then we do risk upsetting polite society, of being an embarrassment.
By being generous and thoughtful, by being good humoured about our own lack of importance and outraged by the lack of importance given to those in need, we also risk being the one our neighbours turn to to pray for their injured child, who are sought out for serious confessions when life falls apart, or for tentative murmurs of hope and curiosity about matters of faith. Being missionary in a suburban setting is in part about being companions on the way, is about being available to life as it happens.
If we don’t risk rejection for seeking to live as Jesus provokes us to then we risk death by accumulation, by boredom, by slow asphyxiation as a species of overfed, overspent, over anxious people. To play with that old truism “It is better to have risked life than never to have really lived at all.” Ultimately a risk taking life of good neighbourliness is about life in abundance. Life in abundance for us and for all.
Even so, come Lord Jesus, surprise us with your abundance.