Happy Independence Day weekend, everybody; I trust that we are celebrating properly. Along with a few thousand other people, Doan and I went to the fireworks put on by the Foundation for Bordentown Traditions, and it was appropriately patriotic. I’ve brought this up before, but Independence Day is an holy day in the Episcopal Church. “Proper Psalms, Lessons, and Prayers were first appointed for this national observance in the Proposed Prayer Book of 1786. They were deleted, however, by the General Convention of 1789, primarily as a result of the intervention of Bishop William White. Though himself a supporter of the American Revolution, he felt that the required observance was inappropriate, since the majority of the Church’s clergy had, in fact, been loyal to the British crown.”1 That wasn’t entirely their fault, as our priests were British priests, and the oath of ordination included swearing allegiance to the crown. To engage in rebellion, then, was to break your ordination vows, and so it’s tough to blame any of them for their reluctance. Most priests made their way back to England or to Nova Scotia, which was, for some reason, a popular place to stop.
The U.S. retains her independent spirit in many ways, and that’s not a bad thing most of the time. Ours is famously the best imperfect system in the world, an in theory everybody has a chance to make something of him or herself, though in practice it’s tougher than that. But the dream of transcending the station of your birth is instilled in us young, it’s one of the core values of being an American.
In first century Palestine, “one’s basic claim to (station) derives from birth and is determined by the circumstances of birth. Technically, this is called ascribed honor. In today’s episode, the people are fully aware of Jesus’ “ascribed honor.” “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” These family members help identify Jesus’ (station in life).
“A second important point is the crowd’s identification of Jesus’ status: an artisan. In the Middle East, a son is expected to take up his father’s occupation or profession. There is no expectation of “doing better than one’s parents” or “getting ahead in life.” Honor requires that persons remain in their inherited status and make no effort to improve on it.
“(That said), Teaching in the synagogue was permissible to qualified males. Jesus’ teaching is so impressive that people were astonished by his words. “Many who heard him were astonished” by his teaching and moved by his mighty deeds (Mk 6:2). They seemed ready to grant the honor Jesus was claiming by his striking teaching. But the crowd, the ultimate judge and bestower of achieved honor, stops short and refuses to concur.”2 They took offense at Him: who is this guy, and just who does he think he is?”
Now, I won’t be the first to blame the hometown crowd. Just imagine what it would be like if a guy you knew your whole life, who grew up down the street, the guy who people whispered about because his family life was a little strange, the guy with stories about him, suddenly, at about 30 years old, starting going around saying he was somebody. Sure, some of the stuff he says makes sense and he sure must have been burning up his library card, but come on, I went to high school with that guy! Just who does he think he is?
In the end, that’s the question about Jesus, the question that determines our lives. We know who He is, and even still, after all these years, even we can take offense at Him, despite ourselves. Jesus asks so much, demands it, even, and even at our best, we can’t keep up.
Mark tells us that Jesus did no mighty works in the midst of those who took offense to Him, nothing but a few healings, which seems pretty mighty to me. But Mark tells us this as both a warning and an encouragement. Don’t be the people among whom Jesus does no mighty works, rejecting Him, impeding His Kingdom, Mark teaches us today, but rather be the people who implore Jesus to work mightily among us, knowing that it is only by His grace and power that we can keep up, that we can be agents of His divine mercy, rising above our station not for ourselves or by ourselves, but for and with each other. May Jesus find, in us and across our great free nation, a people bound together in His Name, ready for Him to do mighty things.