Astounded or Amazed?

Jul 04, 2021

Sermon 7-4-21
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Mark 6:1-13
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     The people in Jesus’ hometown were astounded at him, and Jesus was amazed at them. But…neither emotion was for positive reasons.
     Jesus has returned to his hometown, to Nazareth, where he grew up. Four amazing things have occurred just prior to his arrival, all of which we have discussed during the past two weeks. On his way to the Gentile side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus silenced the storm that seemed about to swamp the boat in which they were riding as an indication of his cosmic power. Then, he made it possible for three desperate people to go forward, to live, and to thrive. The first was the Gerasene Demoniac, who was freed of a legion of demons. When Jesus returned to the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee, he healed a woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years and raised a 12-year-old girl from death to life.
     You would think that word of these amazing events had to reach Nazareth, and they would have been bursting with pride and anticipation of what he would do for them. But, no, they are astounded … but not in a good way. The more accurate translation probably is that they were incredulous. They were unwilling or unable to believe, doubting, and skeptical. Commentator Scott Hoezee write that literally translated, the people’s collective comments in verse 2 would have been something like this:
     “What is all this now? Who gave this fellow such wisdom? What kind of power is this that flows through his hand? The people are implying that the obvious conclusion – this is all from God – cannot be the right conclusion. Something is up, and who can say exactly what it is? It’s almost as though they are sputtering, casting about for some explanation, any explanation, other than the obvious one.” (1)
     Or perhaps the reason for their rejection of Jesus is not that theological. In that era’s hierarchy of social standing, Jesus’ gaining honor would mean that someone else (like a synagogue leader) would lose honor. Given that understanding, their thinking was that Jesus had to be put in his place as the carpenter, the son of Mary, with a bunch of ordinary brothers and sisters. Did you notice that Joseph is not mentioned? That might have been intended as an insult, hinting that Jesus was illegitimate and had no right to a position of honor.
     That brings us, then, to Jesus’ response, which is amazement, as in, “And he was amazed at their unbelief.” The Greek word points to an emotion without doubt, a feeling that takes one’s breath away. That is how Jesus was feeling about his neighbors, but in a negative sense, and how they should have been feeling about him, but in a positive sense.
     How could they reject him in this way? Their unbelief got in the way of him doing “deeds of power” among them. There has been much debate over the centuries concerning what that implies. Was Jesus rendered powerless by their lack of faith? Or did Jesus choose not to do deeds of power because of their lack of faith? Interestingly, Jesus does heal a few people; is that because they asked for help?
     Last week we noted that three, four if you include my 20th-century example, were desperate for various reasons. They all asked Jesus for help, amazed at his power, and received it. So maybe Jesus’ ability to do great things in Nazareth was limited by lack of interest?
     While it is true that grace abounds, it also is true that we play a role in encouraging God’s power and presence to be revealed … through us. There are times when God intervenes without much input from people. I think it is more often true that if we do not do our part, then perhaps nothing much will happen. Remember, doing our part may be as simple as that first and great prayer that we talked about last week: “Help me! Help me! Help me!”
     Now we come to the second part of today’s reading, which may not seem to fit with the first half. Remember, though, that the 12 disciples went with Jesus to Nazareth, just as they had been with him for the four amazing events I already mentioned. They know what is possible. What must it have been like for them to watch their teacher be rejected and ridiculed by his own neighbors and perhaps even family?
     They then experienced another amazing event: Jesus did not give up in the face of rejection. Instead, he began teaching in the surrounding villages. He then expanded his mission by sending his followers out in teams of two, insisting that they take only a staff, no food, no money, no extra clothing. They are to rely on the kindness of the people in the towns and trust in God. So it is that the disciples, amazingly, go; they do not give up either; they step out in faith, empty-handed. We will focus on the rest of their story in a couple weeks.
     It is interesting, isn’t it, that people still respond to Jesus either by being astounded, that is incredulous, or amazed, and our response makes a difference in what Jesus accomplishes in our lives.
     This week I read about a speaker a number of years ago at the Emory University commencement exercises. The students gathered for the event were attempting to ignore anyone at the podium and were doing a good job of it. That is until a man named Hugh Thompson stepped up to speak.
     He had been in the Army during the Vietnam War, a helicopter pilot. On March 16, 1968, he was flying a routine parole when he flew over the village of Mai Lai just as American troops were attacking dozens of unarmed villages – old men, women and children. Hugh Thompson noticed that there was no resistance; there were no enemy troops in sight. Remembering what he had learned in Sunday School – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” - he set the helicopter down between the troops and the remaining civilians and ordered them to stop killing the villagers. He was almost court-martialed, but 30 years later received a medal for saving dozens of lives. (2)
     That is an unlikely story for July 4, I suppose. I cannot imagine the courage it must have taken for Hugh Thomas to make that decision, and I cannot help but wonder if he prayed “Help me! Help me! Help Me!” in the midst of it.  He must have been amazed by Jesus in his life, so much so that it made a difference in what he did.
     The people of Nazareth and the Disciples are at opposite ends of a spectrum; one is unable or unwilling to believe in Jesus, doubting and skeptical. The other group is amazed by Jesus – he has taken their collective breath away, and they have so little doubt about him that they go on a mission empty-handed. It is a simple truth, really, but it can produce amazing results - our response to Jesus – incredulous or amazed - makes a difference in what Jesus accomplishes in our lives. AMEN
(1) “The Lectionary Gospel: Mark 6:1-13” by Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching
(2) Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, 2009 John Knox Press, pg. 214