Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Are We Too Familiar With Jesus? Mark 5:21-6:5 Close Encounters of the Jesus Kind part 8

You know when you are preaching through a book of the bible one of the hardest things to do is work out what is a section to preach on and what isn’t. Things like paragraph headings and the way that later scholars have used chapters and verses to navigate through scripture can help but sometimes they hinder. Originally the gospel was to be read as a whole and not dissected and expounded in bite size pieces like we do. We can miss something of what the author is trying to tell us about Jesus in the flow of the whole narrative when we don’t note the connections and ways things can be placed in the gospels and all of scripture really in juxtaposition. Placed side by side. In the passage we are looking at we get two very different encounters with Jesus placed side by side. Two very different reactions to Jesus together. In looking at these two passages together I sense we will have a close encounter of the Jesus Kind.

Note in the first section we have two people who hardly know Jesus coming to him for help and experiencing the amazing saving power of God as they encounter Jesus. Jarius is the head of a synagogue he is part of the religious hierarchy of his day, the same group we have already meet in the Gospel who are suspicious of Jesus. In chapters 2 we find that they are in conflict with Jesus over religious observances and in chapter three that an official delegation from Jerusalem are quick to write Jesus off as chief amongst demons. But Jarius comes to Jesus when his daughter is gravely ill. Beyond any human means of help and he begs Jesus to come and to heal her.

Then in the crowd that pushes in on Jesus is another person who you’d think would have little to do with Jesus a women who had been suffering from bleeding for twelve years, A condition that would have made her ceremonial unclean in her community: not only to physical suffering but being ostracised as well. She is beyond medical and human help so in desperation and great faith she reaches out to touch Jesus. Even just his clothes, like he was some sort of magic that could be tapped.

In the second half of the passage Jesus encounters a group of people who thought they knew Jesus the best, the people of his hometown. They may have invited Jesus specially to preach at their synagogue after hearing the stories that were spreading about him. When I lived in Napier and read about great sporting achievements in the local newspaper, the focus of the story whenever possible was "hey these people are Hawkes Bay folk". But when they meet Jesus they have a problem believing anything about him except that he was the local carpenter and Mary’s son, note in Jewish society to link someone’s lineage only with their mother was an insult, it questioned his parentage. I mean didn’t Jesus brothers and sisters still live in the village.  Perhaps you can relate to this group of people because they’d seen Jesus grow up and work amongst them and here he was doing and saying things that were rather hard to believe. Beyond their picture of Jesus.  So Jesus isn’t able to many miracles in that place except heal a few people.

In the narratives both sets of people get what they expect from Jesus. The first two receive healing and an answer to their cries for help: The women who had suffered with bleeding for twelve years receives instantaneous healing when she touches Jesus clothes. More than that as Jesus is aware of the fact healing power has gone out from him, he deals with the social stigma attached to her illness as well acknowledging that she is now healed and she is a part of God’s people again. Jarius despite the news he receives that his daughter has died receivers her back again from the dead. The people of Jesus hometown didn’t really expect anything from Jesus and they received maybe more than they were bargained for when he healed a few people in their town. Maybe it was as simple and mundane as the fact that they didn’t have faith enough even to ask. We know this Jesus and well there is nothing special; nothing to get our hopes up about.

There are in scripture and in particular the gospels a correlation between faith and God’s ability to move. Some people have tried to tie those in so closely that when they have prayed for people to be healed or God’s help in a certain situation and it hasn’t gone their way they have been quick to blame the people they are praying for for their lack of faith. I remember listen a women with Cerebal Palsy talking about being in a church where she was made to feel it was her fault that she wasn’t healed when they prayed for her because she didn’t have enough faith. Yet listening to her for an hour struggling to make her self understood sharing her testimony of God’s goodness in her life I was aware that this women had more faith than I did.

Both narratives end with people being amazed. Like in the other miracle narratives in the gospel so far the first section of this reading leaves us with people being amazed at what Jesus has done. In the narrative of Jesus rejection by his hometown it is Jesus who is left amazed, he is amazed at their lack of faith. 

Like all narratives in Mark’s gospel both passages reveal something to us about Jesus. In the first encounter we see that Jesus has authority over both illness and death itself. The women with the bleeding had tried all the cures known to human beings. She’d probably gone to specialists and herbalists and those intriguing alternative medicines in the back streets of  Capernaum. But nothing had helped. But she turns to Jesus and Jesus heals her. The Son of God has authority over the consequences of the fall. The mourners had gathered at Jarius’ house and laments filled the streets, these people were acquainted with death and Jesus arrives in the first throws of the whole synagogue community beginning to grieve and we see that he heals the little Girl. Just like with Lazarus that Mark does not record in his gospel we see Jesus having authority over even death.

We also learn a lot more about Jesus. We see his desire to seek not only physical healing for people but  also seeking their complete peace of shalom which means wholeness. He invites the woman with bleeding to publicly claim her healing and be accepted back into the community. He makes sure that Jarius’ daughter is given something to eat after she is raised by him. We see Jesus willingness to touch and be touched by the unclean. Both touching the women and the dead child’s body would have made him ritually unclean but Jesus isn’t afraid of this rather his touch makes that which is unclean clean and whole.

In the second encounter we learn that Jesus is willing to identify himself as a prophet by using the proverb that a prophet is without honour in their hometowns. Some have seen this as evidence that Jesus didn’t see himself as the divine Son of God simply a prophet but in actual fact it was applying a well known saying t his own circumstances. But it does show us that Jesus stood in direct line of the Old Testament prophets who spoke God’s word and even of Elijah and Elisha who God used to miraculous signs. It also I think shows us a very human side of Jesus you could imagine that he had longed to go home and proclaim the kingdom of God to his own people. The ones he’d know when he was growing up and had lived and worked amongst, but they rejected him. I remember having conversations with my mentor Jim Wallace after visiting speakers had come to St John’s and people had responded to what they had said and raved about the sermons they had given and trying to figure out how they were better than us. But in the end I think we understood a little of what Jesus was saying here.

  Well what for us from these two encounters with Jesus this morning? How are we called to have a close encounter of the Jesus kind.

AS I thought about that I couldn’t help but wonder are we too familiar with Jesus? I mentioned before that perhaps we find it easy to relate to the people of Jesus hometown.  Many of us have grown up with Jesus. We are like Phillip Yancy in his book ‘The Jesus I never knew” and we equate Jesus with Sunday school, weak cordial and gold stars for attendance.  We’ve had Jesus walk through our lives with us we’ve had Jesus presented as a radical, a social commentator a healer saviour, we’ve had Christology from above and below we’ve been on the search for the historical Jesus we’ve rubbed shoulders with people who present Jesus as some sort of super star, the key figure in some sort of conspiracy theory code. We’ve seen Jesus movies and well we feel we know him.

Maybe like the people in Jesus hometown we are used to seeing his brothers and sisters round the place as well and they don’t seem that different and the Jesus we reflect in our church community isn’t the sort of Jesus who would heal the desperate and raise the dead. That Jesus has become a lot like us instead of the challenge for us to become a lot like Jesus.

 Have we domesticated Jesus. We've made him the buddy Jesus of the film 'Dogma'. Dorothy Sayers suggest we have efficiently pared the claws of the lion of Judah and certified him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies?’ We have become too familiar with Jesus and maybe we don’t know him well enough.

We may be familiar with the Jesus of the church but not know the Jesus who is with us and for us the rest of week: The Jesus who is compassionate and caring about the problems and concerns of people round us and able to bring healing and wholeness if we are willing to trust him. 

Maybe we are familiar with the Jesus saviour of our soul, but we do not know the Jesus who speaks with the prophets voice to the injustices and social ills in this world and calls us to confront them in his name.

Maybe we are familiar with a middle class white Jesus who thinks like us and we don’t know the Jesus who reaches out to the outcasts and the poor across those very real barriers in our society.

Maybe it’s the other way around and we know the social justice Jesus and we’ve lost sight of the Jesus who invites us into a saving relationship with God as our father.

Maybe we are familiar with the Jesus who is in the book and we don’t know the Jesus risen from the grave who is with us today and will do the same things in our lives and world by his spirit that he did in the book. 

We need to encounter Jesus again as we read the scriptures as we pray and as we go into our world everyday. Brian McLaren in his book generous orthodoxy talks of the seven Jesus he has meet in his life.  Not like my sisters ex-partner who says he has meet Jesus five times and Elvis a few as well in his work on the Psychiatric emergency team in West Auckland. But as he has exposed himself to different Christian traditions and their understanding of Jesus, it’s as if he is able to build up a fuller picture of Jesus.

But also we need to encourage each other to have faith in Jesus as well to see him move in our midst and through us, to become familair with Jesus beyond our imperfect imaginings of who Jesus is.  As Adrian Plass finishes his reflections on Jesus visit home with

“Miracles happen in a bed of faith. Let us encourage each other and build each other’s faith up, so that Jesus will be able to do deeds of power among us.”

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