Without Honor (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost)

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As today’s Gospel reading begins, Jesus has returned home to Nazareth in Galilee.  It was a tiny little village of about 200 people.  Everybody would have known everybody else, and they had all known Jesus since he was a kid.  Not much happened in Nazareth, and for the most part, other people apparently didn’t think highly of it. In some places in the Gospel accounts, Nazareth is the butt of jokes…

But Jesus, the hometown boy, had done good!  He had done some amazing things.  While he had been wandering about in Galilee and Judea, he had healed people.  He had cast out demons.  He had even raised a little girl from the dead.  And moreover, there was a buzz about his teaching.  People had flocked to listen to him, and he was becoming well known in the local area.

A lot of people were kind of impressed with Jesus.  But not in Nazareth.  Jesus returns home today and starts to do what he had done in many other places – he teaches in the Synagogue on the sabbath.  And the folks there are “astounded”, but not in a good way!  They start to ask, “what is all this stuff?!”  In other words, “who does this guy think he is?”  This is the kid we all know, and we know his mother and his brothers and his sisters.  OK, he can be a big shot other places, but here he needs to sit down and be quiet and mind his place…

It apparently went so badly for Jesus in Nazareth that nobody was willing to accept anything he said or did, except that a few sick people who must have been really desperate were willing to have Jesus lay his hands on them and heal them.  But we don’t know what diseases they were, or how bad those diseases might have been.  In fact, the only thing Mark records from the entire experience is one line from Jesus’ sermon – “Prophets are not without honor except in their hometown”.

So then Jesus and his disciples leave Nazareth for other, perhaps more receptive, places.  And as part of this mission, Jesus for the first time sends his disciples out to places without him.  He tells them not to take anything with them, but he does give them authority over unclean spirits.  And he tells them to do the same things they had seen him do.

So Mark says that they went out and “proclaimed that all should repent.” And that word “repent” really means to “turn around”.  To listen to God.  To move in a new direction.

And yet, Mark gives us only a one line report of their work, “They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”  According to Mark, not a single person “repented” or came to faith.  Instead, the disciples healed a few sick people (including the casting out of demons.) That is, the disciples probably got the same reception as Jesus did in Nazareth.

It’s never reported whether the disciples actually shook the dust from their sandals as they left a town, but as least in this report, they didn’t come back with lots of great news about people being excited for the things Jesus was teaching and doing.  Instead, they were able to anoint with oil a few sick people and heal them.  So they also, were probably treated “without honor.”

Now sometimes, when we think about people being “honored” we think about folks being publicly lauded and praised.  Or we think about someone getting an award for something really important that they did.  Or perhaps, more negatively, we remember people who wanted to stand on ceremony and be acknowledged as more important than everybody else.

And really, who needs that kind of honor?  And yet, the kind of “honor” that’s not given to Jesus or his disciples is the kind of honor that most of us appreciate when we’re working hard day in and day out to do something worthwhile.

For most of us, “honor” isn’t really about awards or public celebrations.  Honor is about being noticed for having done something meaningful, or even just that you did your job.  Honor is about being thanked for having done something you didn’t have to do, even if it’s just being thanked privately. And honor is about being able to feel good about having done something meaningful, which at is easier if people don’t make you feel like you’re not appreciated.

Honor, in that sense, was the kind of honor that Jesus and his disciples often went without.

And yet, it didn’t stop them.  They didn’t throw up their hands and say, “forget it, I’m not doing this anymore.”  Jesus went on to other places and kept teaching.  And he kept healing.  And he died and rose even for those who treated him without honor.

And the first disciples kept doing the same thing. They learned that following Jesus wasn’t simply about watching or learning or wandering around behind him.  Following Jesus was about training themselves to be instruments and messengers of God’s presence, love and compassion in the lives of others, whether they were treated with honor or without honor.

And I think that’s one of the reasons Mark included these verses in his Gospel.  It’s always nice to be noticed, and thanked, and to feel good about something you’ve done.  And sometimes, both Jesus and his disciples received all of those things.  But in the end, the work they were doing – being messengers and agents of God’s presence and help in the world – was valuable in and of itself, because it was God’s work.  And much of that work continued and lasted, even if at the time they were treated without honor.

I know that I often try, especially in our work together as a congregation, to emphasize the good things we’ve done in Jesus’ name.  We often post the thank you notes and acknowledgements we receive from others up on the bulletin board.  And I often stand up here and remind you that you should feel good about having done the work Jesus calls us to do.

I like to have those things in my own life, even when it’s just me or maybe, like those disciples, me and one other person doing something worthwhile.  And I hope each of you, in your own personal calls of discipleship, find that you’re noticed, thanked and feeling good about what you do.

But even, and perhaps especially, when we don’t feel that we’re being honored for serving Jesus in our own lives, it’s still worth doing.  It’s worth doing, because it’s God’s work, and often, that work will outlast us, even if we don’t get honored for doing it. That’s the message of today’s Gospel reading.

So even if it’s simply living your Christian values in your daily life, or undertaking some big task you feel Jesus is calling you to take on, keep on doing it whether you’re treated with honor or without honor.  For like those first disciples, Jesus is at work in and through you.  Like those first disciples, some of what you do may last in ways you can’t see or even imagine.  And like those first disciples, living as Jesus’ disciples is worth it because it’s God’s work, whether it comes with honor or without honor.