July 4, 2021 - Proper 9 (6th Sunday after Pentecost)
Our Hebrew scripture today begins with a plea to establish home. There is certainly a sense of the person connected to it being a defining aspect of the idea of home. But there is also this place -- this home -- that binds the family together. We hear the prophet Ezekiel describe these people as “a rebellious house” (Ez 2:5). These people refers to the people of Israel, the “nation of rebels who have rebelled against me” (Ez 2:3).
It’s a bit interesting to me. To me, home implies a sense of safety, a place of refuge. It is a place of comfort and sustenance. When things look bleak, when options run out, when enemies threaten, we want to go home. It is a natural impulse. Home is a place of safety, a place of peace. This rebellious house of which Ezekiel said the Lord spoke was their place of safety, even if the inhabitants were stubborn.
To be sure, we are often pulled towards home in the best of situations, not to mention the worst. Have you ever read stories about the birds who are able to find their way home after migrating over 2,000 miles? The salmon who swim upstream for miles to get to their spawning grounds - to get home? The lost family pet who suddenly appears at the old family home hundreds of miles away after it escapes from their new house? Robert Frost once wrote in The Death of the Hired Man, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” But based on our Gospel reading this week, Jesus went home, and there didn’t seem to be much taking in going on there!
Today’s Gospel text appears on the surface to once again give us two stories. But maybe not. Maybe they are really about the same thing, but one is a failure and the other reaches the goal. Maybe.
Jesus goes home. The writer of Mark doesn’t say why he goes home. In fact, Mark isn’t much about the motivations and deliberations. He just simply states that Jesus went home. We can imagine why it is that Jesus went home; he is like us, so he goes home for the same reasons we do. He goes home BECAUSE it’s home. He goes for comfort. He goes for identity. He goes because maybe he thinks that Robert Frost is right and that no matter what he’s done, they will take him in.
MAYBE he wants to share all he’s done with those who know him best -- I mean he’s just cured a woman’s bleeding and miraculously saved a young girl! The other parts of the last few chapters of Mark’s Gospel have detailed other miraculous stories, and maybe now he’s going home to show them that he’s done well.
Or MAYBE he’s going home to try to heal what might have been broken by a misunderstanding. Heading back to chapter 3 of Mark, you might remember that Jesus healed the man with a withered hand and then gets into a fight with the authorities who wish he would have waited a day. Then Jesus took a time out with disciples, went up a mountain, taught, and prayed. The conclusion at home may have been that Jesus, the carpenter kid from Nazareth, was crazy. Jesus was upsetting the powers and drawing attention to himself. He must have been a bit cuckoo, and so they went to bring him home. When they got there, and Jesus found out that the people were waiting with straightjackets to take him to the insane asylum, Jesus said, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” That must have hurt them. So MAYBE this visit allows him to explain what he really meant. Maybe he gets to heal the hurts of misunderstanding, and he gets to give the family another chance to understand a vision of what family might mean, and what family needs to mean to live in the world in which we live.
So Jesus tries again… and it works! At least for a moment or two. He spoke in the synagogue and they were astounded… for a moment. When they listened, they were knocked out of themselves… for a moment. They were swept up in his vision and leaned into his promise… for a moment. Until someone said, “Hold on! Isn’t this that carpenter kid? Who does he think he is?” And everything fell apart.
They turned away from him because they thought they knew him. They turned against him because they thought he should stay in his place. They called him names -- like “Son of Mary” instead of “Bar Joseph” -- implying that his lineage was suspect. They laughed; they sneered; they ignored him. And even Jesus was amazed at their level of disrespect.
Jesus went home, but his home didn’t take him in. Now, if it were me, I’d feel sorry for myself. Poor me, I’d say; they don’t understand the real me. They still see my goofy kid-ness, and not the person I’ve become. I would have had a good old pity party. Because within each of us, I believe, there is the desire to go home. Or maybe it’s really the desire to BE home, to be welcomed home, and to feel at home. And if your home won’t take you, what is left?
Jesus “called the twelve and began to send them out two by two” (Mk 6:7). What’s left when you’ve left home or home has left you? You create a new one. He sent the twelve out to create a sense of community, to build relationships, to care for those whom they met, to trust them, to rely on them, and to make themselves at home with them. Jesus’ vision of the spreading of the message is not one of converting souls or mission work; rather, Jesus is interested in relationships. His work is done in the presence of relationships, and because the people there were unwilling to be in relationship, “he could do no deed of power there” (Mk 6:5).
I believe that Jesus is telling us that home is not so much a place as it is a way of being in a certain relationship. It is a welcome. Robert Frost was right that they will take you in at home. But Jesus tells us that home is about a commitment to a vision of loving one another with the same kind of love that he pours out on us. Jesus is trying to show us the way home.
On this Independence Day, it seems to me that what we celebrate isn’t really a historical event or the glories of a richly blessed nation. Instead, it’s an ideal, a vision of what we could be and what we long to be. We who call the United States of America home love our country, but at the same time, we hope for more -- more justice for all, more equality, more hospitality. We celebrate who we are, but we celebrate who we MIGHT be. We all want a country that feels like home, and that means that we need people, all of the people -- of the people, by the people, and for the people -- to show us the way to go home. May God show us the way to be home, a home for all of God’s children.