TEXT: Mark 6:1-13 (New International Version)
6 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
4 Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their lack of faith.
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.
8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”
12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
The explorer Sir Vivian Fuchs once said, “Good judgment is the outcome of experience, and experience is the outcome of bad judgment,” (or, failure.)
The Sacrament of Failure, Mark 6:1-13, July 8, 2012
SERMON: By the time we get to Mark, chapter 6, Jesus has become something of a celebrity folk hero in the hill country of Galilee. He had already healed a leper and a paralytic man, drove out evil spirits, calmed the sea, and raised a girl from the dead, among many other signs and miracles.
However, when he returns to his hometown, he is remembered merely as the carpenter's kid. Whereas people had been amazed at his presence and teaching when he'd stood in the synagogue in Capernaum and read Scripture, here in Nazareth, the Scripture-reading did not go over well. Jesus couldn't do much in Nazareth. In fact, "he was amazed at their lack of faith" (v. 6, NIV). Nevertheless, at the same time, Jesus is undeterred and sends out the Twelve two by two, and with them, a set of instructions, (which we will come back to.)
As Jesus enters his home synagogue and begins to teach, he elicits an emphatic response from his old neighbors. But compare the difference between this situation and the early moment in Jesus' ministry at the Capernaum synagogue (1:21-28). There the people are "astonished" at Jesus' learning and the authority of his teaching, and they respond with respect (1:22). Here in Nazareth the people are also "astonished" -- but in a negative manner. How dare this local boy Jesus assume such authority before them? They murmur against Jesus, refusing to acknowledge his teaching. Because his fellow Nazarenes think, they know who he is and where he comes from, they are convinced he cannot know anything worth hearing. Certainly, he couldn’t be someone anointed by God as the prophets of old!
If Mark 6:1-6 illustrates a brief flicker of failure in Jesus' mission, verses 7-13 reassert his authority with a strong surge of decisive action. Recounted as a series of authoritative initiatives (instructions) on Jesus' part, this commissioning clearly demonstrates the growing power of Jesus' ministry. First (1) he summons or "calls" his twelve chosen disciples into action. Next (2) he gives them definitive "orders." Finally (3) he tells them how to deal with failure, which is actually a traditional standard of judgment for them to follow.
Some projects we undertake start out clean, but quickly gather a layer of dust to themselves. Any one working with wood knows the longer it is smoothed and sanded and sculpted, the deeper the pile of shavings and sawdust grows underfoot and on the project's own surface. Only when it is all finished can we wipe and shake all the dust away, leaving a clean surface.
We have to know when it is time to blow the dust off, roll up our sleeves and start working; and when it is time to shake the dust off, redirect our energies and go on our way. Jesus' commissioning words and instructions to the disciple's missionary activities reveal that he knew there was a time to minister and a time to pull back. At this time, Jesus gives his disciples power to participate in his authority. He also gives them directions to "travel lightly," and guidance on how to deal with failure.
Following Christ, preaching, teaching and living in the power of Jesus’ name, does not mean a life of Christian discipleship is exempt from failure. In fact, Jesus knows that failure will be such a recurring possibility in life that he provided his followers with what can be called a sacrament of failure.
A sacrament can mean something regarded as possessing a sacred character or a mysterious significance: a sign or a symbol. A sacrament points us to the Divine. Our lives can be lived as a sacrament unto God. The idea of a sacrament of failure lies in that God causes all things to work together for good—even our failures.
We learn from our mistakes, we grow; they bring us to our knees and back to God. Just as there are ways to live that teach the world about Christ, there are also ways to fail that are uniquely Christian.
Nobody likes to hear they are going to have to face failure in life -- not the disciples 2,000 years ago, not congregations today. But understanding how Jesus' own ministry, how his very death on the cross for our sake and our salvation, provided all Christians with a sacrament of failure can empower all of us with the "sacrament of failure" as we witness to the world.
As servants of our calling, we must fight against the desire and expectation to be liked by everyone. Somewhere we have accepted the notion that if we sow love and compassion in our community, we will reap love and compassion -- maybe even acclaim and recognition.
"Jesus sowed love and compassion, and yet he reaped unjust suffering and death on a cross. No matter how hard we try, there are always some people that just won't accept us or the message we bring. Ernest T. Campbell once remarked in a sermon that some relationships which get off on the wrong foot always remain left-footed, if not flat-footed." There comes a time when we need to shake the dust off our feet, commend failed relationships to God and to other Christians and spend our time building other relationships (Sweet, 144).
Let’s take a closer look at the three sections of Jesus’ directions to his followers. (1) First, the instructions Jesus gives his disciples include the mandate to "travel light" (verse 8). By putting little or no stock in their own means of survival, the disciples must believe that their preaching, teaching and healing -- those powers authorized by Jesus -- are more than enough to sustain them.
Secondly, in verses10-11, Jesus' instructions continue as (2) he orders his traveling disciples to create a "home base" while they are staying in one locale. Jesus' method serves a dual purpose. First, by establishing residence at the home of a faithful supporter, the disciples will show honor and respect for that follower. Secondly, by establishing a temporary residence, people of that locale would always know where to find them -- the potentially faithful would not have to seek the disciples out in a new place every day.
Finally, as Jesus sends his disciples out, he not only empowers them for action, (3) he prepares them for the inevitable moments of frustration and failure they will encounter. Jesus' own experience in Nazareth now serves as both an example of the kind of rejection they will face and of the kind of response it should elicit. If a household or a village refuses to hear these missionaries' words or recognize the power they wield, the disciples are to move on quickly, shaking the dust off their feet as they go from that place "as a testimony against them" (v.11).
Verse 11 is also translated “as a protest against them!” (JB Phillips NT); for a testimony to them; (Young’s Literal Translation); “as a warning to them.” (Complete Jewish Bible). The Message puts it this way, "If you're not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don't make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way."
First century Palestine was an age and region where the ties of community, connection and kinship made it possible for people to survive physically, emotionally and spiritually. This sacrament of failure was more "earth-shaking" than a mere act of shaking off of the earth, or dust. The disciples' foot shaking would communicate official separation from a relationship between the household or village and the disciples, a distancing of the community from the message of God's love and the healing that the disciples were offering.
This was a symbolic gesture Jews used to shake the dust of their feet when returning from Gentile lands. They did not want to contaminate Jewish soil, which they considered sacred. By leaving a place with such symbolic finality, the disciples were proclaiming that the inhabitants were now left to the judgment of God.
The apostle Paul offered a similar piece of advice to his fellow failure-prone Christians in Rome:
"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all" (Romans 12:18). Paul does not say we will always succeed in achieving a peaceful environment. But he does ask that we work toward that end. And if the clouds of division and rejection make a peaceful approach beyond our grasp; that is the time when we must shake the dust off our feet and move along.
However, Jesus does not send the disciples out to fail. His order includes instructions for how to carry on in the face of failure. The mission itself is primarily one of great positive activity. The authority they received from Jesus not only gives power and purpose to their preaching; it extends and continues Jesus' own ministry. As compassionate examples of God's love these healing activities demonstrate to the people how God's kingdom is already in their midst, even as it is still on its way.
This text concludes by offering a sharp contrast between the environment of faith and the environment of skepticism and rejection. Not even Jesus himself could heal or free God's power in Nazareth -- in that faithless village, the works of faith were few. However, the disciples, working under Jesus' authority and in his name, were able to heal "many sick people" and "cast out many demons" by working and witnessing among those who held out a receptive heart and hand to the word of God.
There are times we must shake the dust off our feet; wash our hands of a situation; shrug our shoulders and move on. The judgment in this text refers to those who refuse to accept God’s Words of Life, but the same principle can apply to our personal lives.
Put failure in its proper perspective and move on. Whatever the failure, whether personal or in relationship with others, there are times we must commit the thing to God, leave it alone, and move on. God bless you.