Are You Listening or Not?

Text: Mark 6:1-13
Date: Pentecost VII (Proper 9b) + 7/8/18

Anyone who is even the least bit aware of the news of the day has noticed the increasing anger, incivility, and even hatred and physical violence displayed of late in political speech of every kind. Some may even be shocked if not at least disturbed or offended at the raw, offensive and uncivil words being thrown at people like bombs meant to destroy reputations and basic dignity.

Today St. Mark begins to introduce the negative reaction of people to Jesus. It starts small. Though His hometown acquaintances and neighbors at first were impressed by His wisdom and teaching it didn’t take long for them to question how this could be as they remembered His family and how they thought they knew Him. In fact their attitude quickly grew to taking offense at Him. St. Mark tells us, that offense was nothing else than unbelief.

The unbelief and rejection of Jesus will build throughout His earthly ministry. The religious establishment will increasingly oppose Him as will even the political establishment. Even the people who at times crowded around Him to hear Him and witness His ability to heal the sick and to feed the hungry would at one point turn away and follow Him no more. At another point it would be even worse than that as they allowed themselves to be manipulated by their leaders finally to call for His execution and death.

We may ask ourselves, “Did Jesus expect this public disgrace”? And if He did, why did He go this “way of the cross,” as He called it, to a painful, excruciating and bloody end? We, of course, know the answer. For Him to be the Savior meant to fulfill everything written about Him in the Law and the Prophets. He was to be Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, the Passover Lamb of God by whose blood alone sin could be forgiven and taken away.

Following His rejection in Nazareth we have the account of His calling of the twelve apostles sending them out on a sort of test run. At our seminaries we call it “vicarage.” They have their instructions and the limited authority over unclean spirits. They were to extend Jesus’ own ministry of preaching and healing. But they also received a warning that they too would begin to run into the same opposition as He did because that opposition was aimed at Him whom they represented.

It would start out seemingly innocent enough, some places not receiving them and people not listening to them. Short of being thrown out of a restaurant or receiving a drink thrown in your face, short (for now) of being harassed and ridiculed, they, of course, were not to take revenge but to simply, quietly leave, walk away. They may not even notice the significant and silent sign of shaking the dust off of their feet as a testimony against them. I wonder how often they were not received or were ignored. St. Mark’s account seems to end this section only with the happy report of their success in proclaiming repentance, casting out many demons and healing many sick.

Of course we know that things would eventually get worse for them too. Peter hears the accusations of His being one of Jesus disciples, denying it three times. Worse than that however were the times they would endure being thrown in prison when they refused to obey the authorities’ demand to stop preaching. Ultimately every one of them would, like their Lord, be martyred for their witness, every one except St. John.

As today’s followers and disciples of Jesus what can we expect? We certainly are witnessing more and more blatant persecution of Christians in our world today. Maybe you have even tasted the bitter cup of criticism and rejection. We can identify with the Apostle Paul when he describes suffering for the faith as when he writes, “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart…. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Cor 4:1, 7-12).

Like those first apostles we have been called to a joyful task of representing our Lord as Savior of all. But we too have been warned. Jesus gave us the assurance of God’s mercy when He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” But these blessings are also set in the context of the realities of a world of sin as He warns immediately, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you false on my account.” So what are we to do? Retaliate? Get back at those who mistreat us? No. Rather, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5:8-11).

In times like those and days like these remember the great comfort in our hymns of faith and reassurance.

If thou but trust in God to guide thee
And hope in Him through all thy ways,
He’ll give thee strength, whate’er betide thee,
And bear thee through the evil days.
Who trusts in God’s unchanging love
Builds on the rock that naught can move.

Be patient and await His leisure
In cheerful hope, with heart content
To take whate’er they Father’s pleasure
And His discerning love hath sent,
Nor doubt our inmost wants are known
To Him who chose us for His own.

Sing, pray, and keep His ways unswerving,
Perform thy duties faithfully,
And trust His Word; though undeserving,
Thou yet shalt find it true for thee.
God never yet forsook in need
The soul that trusted Him indeed. (LSB 750:1, 3, 7)