Proper 9

Today’s Gospel lesson from St. Mark prompts preachers around the world to recall the times they have gone home, gone back to their hometowns and home parishes, and found things not to their liking. These preachers had left their homes, they went to seminary, were ordained, spent some time in their first parishes, and then after a time returned to their roots, only to find that no one in their hometowns called them Father, their families, friends, and neighbors remembered them as just plain John or Jimmy or whatever, they remembered and still referred to them as their paperboy, the kid who mowed their lawn or fed their dogs or whatever. I have heard way too many of these sermons, and these preachers inspire in me not respect for their present priesthood but rather the urge to smack them over the head. For one, they are comparing themselves to Jesus, as if they themselves were treated in the same way Jesus was in the Gospel we just heard; crucifixion might solve that little problem. Two, they presume that whatever it was they said to their hometown crowds was so prophetic, so challenging, that they were rejected for their godliness; again, crucifixion might solve that problem as well. Third, they missed the point of this episode in the life of Jesus, at least the overall point. And that point is this: that truth, actual truth, God’s Truth, can and is made known to us, and that all of us, at one point or another, reject that Truth. It’s not about them.

Today we got three lessons in how we reject the truth, one from Ezekiel, one from St. Paul, and one from St. Mark. Ezekiel has never been known as the happiest of prophets, and his testimony today does not help that reputation. Ezekiel is not happy because the Lord was not happy, and the Lord happened to choose Ezekiel as the man to hear and pass on His complaints. “Mortal,” God said to Ezekiel, “I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn.” Not a good start. Ezekiel must go to all of Israel and tell them that the Lord is not in a good mood, that God has had enough of their rebelliousness. God goes on to describe them as scorpions, nasty little creatures who have decided, willfully decided, to toss away the blessings of the Covenant. They won’t hear you, God told Ezekiel, because they have decided not to hear Me. It wasn’t about Ezekiel.

St. Paul is in the same boat but on a different sea. In his first letter to the Church he planted in Corinth, Paul must defend both himself and the Faith he had given to the first Christians there. Like Ezekiel, Paul is not particularly happy at this point in his life: he has witnessed an entire Church very quickly become at odds with itself, its people return to their pagan roots and immorality, and reject their founder. Like Ezekiel, Paul had to deal with people who willfully decided to toss away the blessings of the Covenant, this time the New Covenant written with the Blood of Jesus. Like the Israelites in the book of Ezekiel, the Church in Corinth did not want to listen to God or His messenger, Paul had to strain to defend his own apostleship. The Church in Corinth had decided they didn’t want to hear the truth. It wasn’t about Paul.

It was about the truth, so it was about Jesus. Jesus had left His hometown, gone to “seminary” for forty days in the wilderness, had spent some time in ministry, and we just heard the story of His returning to His roots. Upon His return no one called Him Rabbi or Lord or Master, His family, friends and neighbors remembered and referred to Him as that carpenter kid, the son of a carpenter, perhaps a hometown boy made good, but perhaps a bit too good. While Jesus was around town, He did what He always did, He went to synagogue on the Sabbath and gave a sermon when His time came to do so. The people, His people, were not too pleased with His sermon, they said to each other “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” Were they jealous? Sure. Suspicious? Of course. After all, prophets are not without honor except in their hometown. But, most of all, they were rebellious, they were of the same impudent and stubborn house Ezekiel had to deal with, they had shut their ears to the truth, they had willingly tossed out the blessings of the Covenant.

But this story is not about them, it’s not about the scorpions and rebels, it’s not even about rejection of the truth, but rather it’s a story about how the truth keeps coming despite our rejection. The truth keeps coming, Jesus kept on going, in fact, that’s how St. Mark ends this episode: “Then he went about among the villages teaching.” The truth had been rejected, Jesus had been rejected in His own hometown, but truth hates delay, so the Truth Himself went about the villages teaching. The Truth keeps coming at us to this day, He comes to us in Scripture and in prayer, in neighbors and in strangers, in His most precious Body and Blood. Jesus keeps coming to us even as we reject Him, even as we shut our ears and toss out His blessings, and that is good news. It’s good news that it’s not about us, but about the Truth that keeps coming. Come Lord Jesus.

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