Rejection and Discipleship – July 8, 2018
Rejection and discipleship. That would be the two-word summary of the two stories that comprise our Gospel passage today. First rejection. Then discipleship. It is an interesting pairing worth exploring.
We begin with the conclusion of a major section of the Gospel that has had Jesus travelling to the Gentile hinterlands to perform many miracles of healing. Jesus has demonstrated “power over nature, demons and death,” and people have responded with remarkable faith. (NIB, 579) Today Jesus concludes this tour to the other side of the Sea of Galilee by returning to his hometown, presumably to continue his ministry of teaching and healing. It begins well enough with the people astounded by Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue, but then it quickly takes a turn as the questions come: “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?” With remarkable speed, the peoples’ amazement turns to offence. And so Jesus “could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And [Jesus] was amazed at their unbelief.”
Jesus is rejected by those closest to him. The hometown crowd didn’t trust their initial instinct of amazement at his teaching for long. Instead, they began to question the source of Jesus’ power, the ground of his wisdom. They question Jesus’ authority: “Where did he get all this?” Those who we might think should know and support and follow Jesus the best, can’t truly see him. I’m sure they love Jesus; perhaps they just want him to stay put instead of travelling around, putting on airs and making a spectacle of himself. The offence seems to come from his human origins: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary…” and sibling to our friends? The home town crowd know Jesus’ human origins, his human life, and they are scandalized by it. And so they reject him, or at least the source of his wisdom and power, in a word, God. It is a foundational experience for Jesus. It is a central part of his mission and ministry that not only continues, but intensifies as his Gospel journey continues through betrayal, suffering and even unto death.
But the hometown people’s rejection of Jesus is not the end of the story. In the face of it, Jesus does not slink away. Jesus does not hide or retreat. He does not argue or berate. Jesus is amazed at their unbelief but he does nothing to change it. Nothing, that is, except to continue on along the path set before him: “Then he went about among the villages teaching,” the story goes on. Jesus continues along, letting his experience of rejection accompany him perhaps but not hold him back. Jesus continues on with those who do believe and who choose to follow. He continues on with his chosen family of the disciples.
This story of rejection is paired today with a story of discipleship. Jesus continues to go “about among the villages teaching…” but he doesn’t do so alone. Not only do Jesus’ disciples continue to follow him, but their role now changes and expands. Jesus “began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” How ironic that Jesus bestows upon his disciples the very authority that was questioned in his hometown. In the face of questions and rejection, Jesus remains confident about the power behind his work, the wisdom beneath his words, the authority of the God he incarnates. Jesus is confident to the point of anointing his disciples with it. Jesus can do no deed of power in his hometown, but he can give the authority of God to the disciples and they can use it to fight evil and bring healing.
Jesus sends out the disciples two by two with divine authority to work miracles, but Jesus sends them with almost nothing else. His instructions are clear and they are daunting. Jesus says: “take nothing for [the] journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.” I think we can go ahead and assume he also means no laptop, no smart phone, no granola bar, and no Visa card. Other than the clothes on their back, and a walking stick, the only baggage the disciples are to carry is the authority of God, and the power of God to bring healing and overcome evil. That, and a good friend and more than a friend, a partner in doing God’s work. It kind of ups the ante on belief and trust. A profound commitment to the mission is absolutely necessary to set out on such a journey. A faithful companion is needed to uphold and hold to account to embark on such a mission. No half measures are possible with such demanding instructions. If you’re not really sure; if you’re only half-way committed, you would never go. And more, Jesus goes on to dissuade them from the possibility of upward mobility with the further instructions: “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.” There is to be no moving about. There is no finding something better once you’ve begun to establish a ministry and impress the right people.
The truly stunning thing is… they did it. Jesus’ first disciples followed his instructions. Even after witnessing Jesus’ rejection by the hometown crowd… They set out to fulfill the mission on which Jesus sent them. They took the risk to go all in; to leave behind family and stability and career and, frankly, common sense. And they went. They “went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” They were able to accomplish what Jesus could not in his own hometown. And as the story has grown and expanded through time and space, disciples of Jesus have continued to go, to follow Jesus through rejection, in the power and authority of God, to overcome evil and to bring healing.
Rejection and discipleship. Being a disciple of Jesus means following Jesus into rejection and even outright hostility. And it means not letting our experiences of it stop us from continuing on in the mission to which God calls us, and maybe even anointing others to join the effort. Discipleship may include rejection but it is not limited by it. Following Jesus into and beyond rejection, as part of discipleship, means developing the resiliency to keep going… to work through whatever emotional or concrete obstacles come along.
Being a disciple means setting out with only the authority of God that Jesus bestows upon us, and a faithful companion, and trusting that it is enough. It is trusting that everything else we’ll need… food for the journey, a safe place to rest, warm clothes… whatever we truly need, will come through the radical hospitality of others.
Being a disciple sent to continue Jesus’ mission of healing and teaching means believing in something greater and bigger than ourselves. It means believing God’s mission of peace, with justice, through sacrificial love, is more important than our personal likes or preferences or doubts or hangups. Being a disciple means trusting that the power and strength to accomplish God’s mission is already given to us and we therefore have real responsibility to use it for the good of all.
This is the discipleship to which we also are called. With the help of the Holy Spirit, may we be faithful to the task, that many who are sick will be cured.