“When the going gets tough…”

“When the going gets tough,….”
Sunday 8 July 2018
Sporting teams often place a lot of importance on home ground advantage. In the world of football (soccer), for example, a draw when playing away from home is viewed as being almost a win itself. There are alleged to be a whole host of advantages which accrue to the home team – familiarity with the surroundings, no long trip to get to the game, referees being influenced in their favour by the local crowd. There is also an element of the players not wanting to disappoint their home fans giving them access to reserves they didn’t know they had.
Sometimes the level of expectation of the home town fans that their side will win can actually work as a negative pressure for the players. The fear of failure can emerge as a powerful unhelpful influence. And, of course, the home side does not always win.
So, playing at home is not always what it is cracked up to be.
And Jesus certainly found that out in the reading we heard today from Mark’s gospel.
On a close reading of the passage, we find a curious aspect to the manner of the response of the locals. In the first place, they are struck by Jesus’ wisdom and his deeds of power. But this seems to be short-lived because, rather than this leading them to believe in him, it only triggers their pettiness and, one might almost say jealousy, that a local village lad could aspire to be a great teacher and healer.
“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?” they say. You can hear the contempt in the question.
Then follows a short highly significant sentence.: “And they took offence at him.” “And they took offence at him.” This one sentence sums up their lack of faith, their inability to see beyond their own petty jealousy and recognise Jesus for who he truly was.
There seems to be some irony in it for me. The very people who you think might know Jesus the best because he grew up among them show themselves to not know him at all.
But you know, it is not the rejection of Jesus by the Nazarethites that takes my attention so much in this passage, but rather what Jesus did next.
And what Jesus did next is covered in some linking verses.
“And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.”
So firstly, he performed only a few cures. The clear inference is that it was not at the volume that was normally to be expected. “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.”
Secondly, it appears that he was set back a little by their response. He had been put down by his home crowd. ” And he was amazed at their unbelief.”
Thirdly, he went on teaching in other villages. He did not throw the towel in. He remained “on task” as we might say in today’s business theory language. “Then he went about among the villages teaching.”
And fourthly, he began to spread his mission even more broadly by sending out the twelve disciples that he had previously set apart to carry on with his ministry in pairs. “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.”
I think sometimes we forget the human side of Jesus. Because we know how the story ends, we sometimes assume that Jesus knew everything that lay in his path. Jesus had to respond to events as they unfolded before him. Recall his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemene when he prayed for the cup to be removed from him.
His rejection by his own townspeople must have rocked him. Mark says that he was “amazed”. Jesus had to consider what had happened and work out what God wanted him to do from that place. And clearly, Jesus saw that God wanted him to press on – not only as he had, but with even more vigour. And so, he sends his disciples out to do as he had been doing – to teach and heal.
I suppose it is this aspect of the gospel narrative that struck a chord with me because, in many ways, the Church today seems to be in that same sorry place of rejection that Jesus was. And it is very easy for us as members of the Church to think that it is all too hard, to become downcast and throw in the towel.
This episode from Jesus’ life shows us how Jesus responded to one of the major setbacks of his ministry. Even when his own townspeople rejected him, he picked himself up and continued on with his mission, expanded it even, by sending out the disciples. This is the model of stick-at-itness that Jesus gives us. Referring back to the world of sport where this sermon started we can find some useful slogans to assist us in these sorts of times. A couple I like are:
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going”; and
“Champions get up, even when they can’t”.
Our prayer could be that we would take on this courageous attitude to our living of the Christian life, that we would meet rejection (and sometimes, ridicule) with renewed energy for witnessing to the power of Jesus in our lives.
Let us pray.
O God,
light of the minds that know you,
life of the souls that love you,
strength of the thoughts that seek you:
Help us so to know you
that we may truly love you,
so to love you
that we may truly serve you,
whose service is perfect freedom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Reverend Allan Paulsen, Parish Priest

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