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As the Covid restrictions began to ease in the County, the first outside groups we allowed back in to use our building were the 12 Step groups. Over the years, Prince of Peace has hosted a number of 12 Step groups, which have helped a huge number of people who suffer from addictions.
Addiction is a really serious problem in our society, and it’s really hard for a person who suffers from addiction to get clean and stay clean. That’s why there are always a number of things people need to get the help they need. 12 Step groups can be an important part of that journey. But the 12 Step groups always tell people right up front that there is no magic cure. And most importantly, the first step to for getting help is wanting to be helped.
That seems simple, but it’s critical. Nobody can help you until you admit you need help, and you’re willing to accept help. That’s true for addictive behavior, but it’s also true for many areas of our lives.
In fact, it’s the basic principle behind today’s Gospel reading. Jesus has returned to his hometown of Nazareth, a tiny little village where everybody knows everybody else. People have heard of Jesus doing some pretty amazing stuff as he’s traveled about in other places, and they’re probably pretty happy that some good PR has conveyed upon their otherwise un-noteworthy town.
But then, on the sabbath, Jesus goes into his hometown synagogue and begins to teach as he had in other places. And that’s when the trouble starts. Many people, Mark says, were “astounded.” And in this context, “astounded” clearly doesn’t mean “impressed.” It more likely conveys a sense of wondering, “who the heck does this guy think he is?! This is little Jesus who grew up in our town. He’s just the son of Mary and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon. Where does he come off acting like he’s a big know-it-all?!”
And so they don’t want help from Jesus. And Jesus can do “no deed of power” not because he was unable, but because people in Nazareth were unwilling to be helped.
So why? What made these folks unwilling to be helped so that Jesus could do no “deed of power” except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them? It’s easy to look down on critics of Jesus when we read stories like this, but perhaps these were simply folks who:
- Couldn’t accept the idea that God could do extraordinary things through “ordinary” and “common” people they knew … (perhaps they might have been willing to accept help from a “great man of God”, but how could that possibly be “little Jesus” from our hometown…?)
- Figured that they had things pretty well in hand, and unlike those other poor folks in other places, they could handle things on their own just fine … (and maybe they didn’t see a great deed of power because they simply told Jesus they were fine and didn’t need one…?)
- Realized on some level that accepting help from Jesus would mean changing how they lived in relation to God and to each other … (people who experienced great deeds of power from Jesus ended up changed – and were they really willing to change, especially if that meant re-thinking who Jesus had become…?)
And I’m sure that Mark did not include this story so that we could criticize the people from Jesus’ hometown. Rather, I think this story is included because it’s often the case that recognizing and experiencing God’s help and presence in our lives is sometimes tougher for us than we like to admit. Sometimes, for us, too, we may miss out on what God is doing – or trying to do – in our lives because we’re resistant to wanting help.
And sometimes for me, and maybe for you also, the problem is that I’m:
- Looking for God’s help through extraordinary experiences or people – and maybe I’m less open to seeing God’s help and power through the regular experiences of my life, and even through people who aren’t consciously seeking to be agents of God’s transformative power in my life … (sometimes, we’re looking for the fast and simple cure, instead of something much more basic and mundane…)
- Wanting to to handle things myself, and don’t really feel like I need help right now. Personally, I’d much rather be the person who offers help rather than the person who accepts help. And so I can pass on help that maybe I really could use! And I know a lot of folks who are like me, too … (especially on Independence Day, we remember how much we cherish our own independence – both as a nation and personally; and we often resist the idea of “needing” help…)
- Not really as open to change and being changed as I think I am. As we’re all coming out of the last year of Covid, we’re all realizing that “things” have changed and “things” are changing. But how willing am I – and how willing are you – to change and be changed in order to live into these new realities…? (often in my life, I know that the help I really need is help to grow and change and adapt to different situations and new realities in my life; I know this intellectually; but often, the help I really want God to give me is the “help” to make it possible for me not to have change too much and for things to go back to the way they were…)
As today’s Gospel reading ends, though, it’s clear that Jesus’ help is still going to be always and everywhere available to everyone, even the people of Nazareth who resist his help. Jesus sends his disciples out to announce good news and the presence of God to towns which may or may not receive them. And Jesus never ever tells anybody, “sorry, you missed your one and only chance.”
And so this story is written down for people like us – people who so often seek and even need God’s help, but sometimes have difficulty recognizing and experiencing it in our lives. In this story, Jesus promises us that God’s help and presence is always there for us.
But in order to more fully see and experience the help, Jesus reminds us to look for the ordinary people and events – and the non-flashy ways – that God is working through each day. Jesus calls us to be open to God’s help even when we think we don’t absolutely “need” it. And most of all, Jesus calls us to accept the help of God which will ultimately move us be people who are changed and transformed by God’s presence in our lives.