It’s a temptation, when we are told something we don’t want to hear, to blame the person who carries the news to us. We sometimes call that ‘shooting the messenger’. Jesus is the supreme messenger of course, the living Word, and he too found himself to be unpopular although he had so much to offer to those who would listen to him.
The gospel for yesterday looked at the reaction of the people of Nazareth to Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue. The readings were Psalm 123, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 and Mark 6:1-13.
Recently a friend of mine had a rather difficult task to carry out. Like many companies, the one he is working for is struggling in the currently financial climate. Cash flow is a major headache as companies who owe money to his company take longer and longer to pay what they owe. The result of this has been that they are pretty much dependant on the goodwill of the bank at times to make ends meet. If staff have been employed to do a job, they have a right to be paid, whether or not the invoices have yet been paid by the other companies. Last week it was crunch time. Despite all their efforts, the money for payroll was not in the bank in time to pay salaries and someone had to tell the employees. That ‘someone’ was my friend.
On hearing the news, some people were extremely angry. They had standing orders coming out of their bank accounts that would not be able to be paid and so on. There was no one they could express their anger to except my friend, so despite his being only one person in the firm, he bore the brunt of all the anger and frustration. No amount of reassurance seemed to work to help these angry people to calm down, even though the company promised to pay any costs incurred as the result of the late payment.
Others who listened to the same news took it much better. They listened carefully to the explanation about all the effort that had gone into trying to ensure that the salaries could be paid. They realised that my friend was not personally responsible for what had happened. They took the opportunity in the following days to claim for anything they had been charged as a result of the problem. One or two also asked for small sums in advance to help them out temporarily.
There were two very different responses to the bad news. The angry group chose to ‘shoot the messenger’ even though there was nothing he could do. The other group chose to listen in a generous spirit, instead of quickly becoming judgemental.
The gospel passage for today comes just after Jesus has raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. This was a most wonderful miracle among many, many miracles. He went on from that event to his home town of Nazareth. Going back home is usually a time to remember, to indulge in a bit of nostalgia perhaps. There is often the chance to catch up with family and friends. You may of course run into one or two people whom you would rather have avoided. Those we meet tend to say we’ve changed, or that we haven’t changed a bit! All very confusing when the two very different comments come hard on the heels of one another. They may tell us we look more like our mother now, or more like our father. For some, we will never have grown up anyway so they probably still see us as the little boy or girl they once knew. I imagine that Jesus was looking forward to being with the people he knew and bringing news of God’s kingdom to them.
The people of Nazareth listened to Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue and were amazed. They acknowledged that he had great wisdom and they knew about his great works, his miracles. That suggests that all’s well. ‘Local lad makes good’ can be the headline in the local newspaper. But.. There’s always a but, isn’t there? The people began to remember who they were listening to. They remembered Jesus – that lad of rather suspect origins. They had never really got to the bottom of the strange story Mary told about Jesus’ conception. The fact that he had never married suggests the local fathers were not taking any chances with their family honour by marrying one of their daughters to him. He’d been a well behaved child, not given his parents many headaches, apart from that incident in Jerusalem when he ran off and worried his parents sick as they searched for him. He’d worked hard in the family business until he had gone off like a tramp walking the country.
Somehow it seems that the people Jesus had grown up knowing just couldn’t make that leap from seeing him as a local carpenter’s son to seeing him as a great teacher and healer. I’ve found on occasions that meeting people in RL whom I have known online can be quite difficult. There is often so much that I know about them, they may be really close friends, but actually meeting them in the flesh takes a bit of effort to join the person I know with the person standing in front of me. It’s not impossible but it takes a moment or two. It seems that the people of Nazareth chose instead to take offence at this version of Jesus who didn’t match their previous picture of him. It’s quite amazing that they chose to shoot the messenger who came to bring them good news and healing, but they did. As a result they lost the chance to share in all the wonderful things that Jesus could have shown them. You can sense the sadness in Jesus as he deals with their rejection. This was not a joyful homecoming.
Jesus referred to himself as a prophet. A prophet is given the word of God to share with the people to whom he is sent. When Jeremiah was describing his call from God he said: The Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.” Once given the word, there really is no choice but to speak. This is how Jeremiah describes it: ‘If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name”, there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.’ Jesus listened to his Father and had to speak out what he heard from God, even at the risk of being rejected. Jesus knew what happened to prophets. He had warned the disciples that they would be persecuted as the prophets had been. He wept over Jerusalem and said: ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!’
People hear what they want to hear and reject what they can’t or won’t accept. As Paul said to Timothy: ‘ The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.’ It’s so much easier to blame the one who carries the unwanted message than it is to look honestly at ourselves to see if the message is for us and should be acted upon.
Although the call to be a prophet is a particular one, we are all disciples. As Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs he told them what to do if people would not receive them or listen to their message. They were to shake the dust off their feet and move on. He expected them to be persecuted just as he was. It will be the same for us. However, Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples not to carry the message just because it will be met with rejection some of the time.
A few years ago I found myself carrying an unpalatable message. I spent a long time debating about whether to speak to the person or not but in the end I couldn’t avoid doing it. I had seen someone move into a new church and begin to make friends. The trouble was that some of the people she was trusting were then being very nasty about her behind her back. That’s not the way for Christians to behave of course, but it was happening. I was afraid that the person would get very hurt eventually by all this and so took the opportunity to talk to her about it. The result was that she rejected me completely and told me I was not showing any fruits of the Spirit. That response obviously hurt me a lot and took a long time to recover from. Nevertheless, looking back I know I did the right thing. I would do the same again if I had to. I think I learnt a lot through doing it. I also acted ethically I believe.
If we find ourselves with a message to share that we suspect won’t be well or easily received, I think it’s beholden upon us to pray about the matter, to be absolutely sure about what we are going to say. We must also look at our intention in acting. Is it to bring that person down, to score points, to feel superior? Or do we have the best interests of the person at heart? Do we believe we are sharing something that God has laid on our heart to share? Do we feel sorrow at the thought of the sorrow it may cause?
Let’s do our best to follow St Paul’s advice: Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor