“Shake it off.”
Those were the mild words of my father, whether I suffered a skinned knee or a disappointed heart or an outraged mind. “Shake it off” was his advice no matter what injury or offense life brought my way.
I did *not* like it. I was an emotional, reactive little girl, a foot-stamper and a door-slammer. I wanted attention and comfort and justice, depending on the wound. How could I shake it off? How could I shake it off if my little brother hit me, or I didn’t get the part I wanted in the play, or the girls in my class picked on me?
Yes, I could do righteous indignation with the best of them even when I was a little girl. When those things happened, I was:
These are a few of the interpretations of the way people in Jesus’ hometown felt when he came around to tell them a thing or two about … well, the gospel doesn’t exactly say.
On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!” (Mark 6:2, NRSV)
They watched him grow up, right there in town, and they knew him better than he knew himself. Hmmph.
Outrageous. Repulsive. Scandalous. He’s no prophet. He’s no healer. He thinks he’s a teacher? He’s a carpenter!
And while he was with them:
He could do no deeds of power.
This bad day comes right on the heels of a stretch of triumphant encounters: Jesus bests the religious authority figures in debates, and he casts demons out of many different people, and he heals the sick, and at the end of Chapter 5, he raises a little girl from the dead.
I can’t imagine this story didn’t get home to Nazareth ahead of him.
Still, the people are offended. Where does Mary’s boy get off, making himself so important? We heard he was crazy. Why not too long ago his own family tried to bring him home and make him stop acting this way.
The story at home was very different from the one everywhere else.
Around the world, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was respected for his courage and witness during Apartheid in South Africa. But at home, in South Africa, he had a different experience. Matthew Willman, interviewing Archbishop Tutu, asked:
You were often protested against, wrongly quoted and many times lied about during the long years of apartheid. Many believed what the newspapers wrote, did this influence your character and goals in life?
In fact no, I would have hoped I mean that to some extent the main aspect of who I was, was already in place. What many people would not easily believe is that actually I am in fact I am quite reserved. They will say what? that exuberant outgoing Bishop? that very abrasive guy? (laughing out loud) but it’s true…..
It was painful but I learnt to try to develop a skin or a Rhinoceros. I will tell you this, the reason why it was painful was because maybe one of my weaknesses, one of my several weaknesses, is that I love to be loved and nothing could have been more excruciating than to be vilified as a matter of cause.’
I knew from Theology College that when you looked at Biblical paradigms you realized that if you were asked to be Gods spokesperson only infrequently would you be bothered. I mean Our Lord Himself said ‘A prophet is not without honour except in his own country, his own City.’ So it wasn’t surprising and to some extent it attested to the authenticity of what you were doing.
Develop a thick skin. Shake it off.
Now, when I read this story, I’m scandalized on Jesus’ behalf. How could they not see who he really was? Remember it was only in Chapter 4 that he gave commands to the wind and the rain, and the wind and the rain OBEYED HIM!!! Seriously! You know that story made it to Nazareth, too.
But there he was, the c.a.r.p.e.n.t.e.r., showing up at synagogue, bold as brass, talking like he knew something. Did he get special training? Did he have a divinity degree? A Masters in Sacred Texts? When he was growing up, was he the rabbi’s favorite? He’s just a boy from a big family who didn’t stick around to help support his mother. Pah! Outrageous. Scandalous. Even someone without any special qualifications should know better than that.
I sympathize with Jesus. I can feel my gorge rising just thinking about it. He’s come home to share the Good News with his own people, and they are, elbowing each other, talking behind their hands, “whispering” loudly enough to be heard quite clearly.
They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:2b-3, NRSV)
No wonder he could do no deeds of power…well, except for healing a few sick people.
Shake it off. He must have told himself that. Shake it off. Look at these other people who need help. Shake it off.
All through the gospel of Mark, Jesus tells people, “your faith has made you well.” Sometimes it’s even the faith of another person causing the healing. But where people actively disbelieve, he can’t muster his power to do wonders. He has to muster his power to control himself.
Because don’t lets kid ourselves. He had the power to heal the sick and cast out evil spirits and he had the power to calm a storm and he had the power to raise a little girl from the dead. If he wanted to bring the powers of storm and even death on those – annoying – people in his hometown, he could have. He could have.
Instead he shook it off. And he told his friends to do the same.
Shake the dust off your feet as a witness when people cannot hear what you are telling them. Shake it off and move along.
And we might like to think, “That’s all very well for his itinerant disciples, going to talk to strangers. What did they have to lose? All they had to do was go to the next town.”
It’s harder when you’re trying to tell the truth to people who know you, especially when they’ve known you all your life. It’s hard to talk about something that means everything to you when the people who should understand think you’re crazy or foolish or pretending to be something you’re not.
But I wonder if that isn’t exactly what the disciples faced, and if it isn’t the reason Jesus gave them the advice he did. After all, he didn’t send them to Kenya or France or Maine to spread the word. He sent them to places that were walking distance, places where people would recognize them, places where their third cousins, or their wives’ uncles or their more successful older brothers lived. And those were the people, those relatives, or their neighbors, who would close the doors in their faces.
They weren’t that different from us. We just have more ways to have our feelings hurt by the people who know us best and for goodness’ sake ought to be able to understand where we’re coming from! We can slight each other at home and at church, just like they did, and in the marketplace, but we’ve added the mall and the schoolyard. We can whisper insults behind our hands, a little too loudly, but we can also sling arrows via email or on Facebook, in voicemail and text message.
And in today’s world, there’s nothing people like to fight over more than differences of belief, whether it’s religion or science or politics. We 21st century people have it down to a fine art of sideways remarks and outright threats and an absolute lack of grace extended to the people on the other side of whatever the issue or question may be. We cling to our outrage.
But Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples to fight. He doesn’t tell us to come down like the hammer.
Shake it off, he says mildly. Shake it off. If they won’t listen to you, if they can’t offer you the decency of basic hospitality and a fair hearing, shake the dust off your feet and move along.
He’s telling us the same thing. Shake the dust off your shoes: your Chuck Taylors or your Vans, your Crocs or your Birkenstocks. Shake the dust off and keep moving. Shake it off.
But first you have to try and tell them something about Jesus. He spent his time explaining that God cares more about us than about rules written down in a book. He told them over and over that we ought to care for one another, not to win God’s love and forgiveness but because we are grateful to have it already. He showed them, in his actions, that people who are on the margins of society matter to God, and they ought to matter to us, too. And he promised us that when we are the ones on the margins, on the wrong side of happiness, or success, or acceptability, or strength, or the law, or health, God will absolutely embrace us.
He had phenomenal power, but he did not use it to save himself. Instead he suffered in body to show us that even in death there is hope of new life.
It’s the best Good News there is.
But it won’t sound good to everyone. Whether we tell the story of God’s amazing and steadfast love, or simply show it in our actions, some people will respond, and others will close the door on us. They may even slam it.
Then, shake the dust off your Chucks. Remember you are in good company. Take the message to the next person who needs to hear it. In the name of the One who got no honor in his hometown. Amen.
*Many thanks to the Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney, who pointed out that the people were beyond offended; they were scandalized.