On 5th July, the fifth Sunday after Trinity, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 123, Ezekiel 2:1-5, Mark 6:1-13.
Being typecast, meaning they are always thought of as one kind of character, is something that most actors dread, though some stars in soap operas seem content to spend their whole career as a particular character. For most actors, it’s important that they be seen as capable of acting in different roles, often in very different types of film or stage play.
The main young stars of the eight Harry Potter films effectively grew up in front of film-going audiences around the world. Daniel Radcliffe as Harry and Emma Watson as Hermione first appeared in 2001 playing the parts of 11 year olds. Ten years later the last film was made. Those actors became Harry and Hermione to many people. There was little chance of people thinking of them in a different way. However, if they were to have future careers post Harry Potter, they needed to be seen differently. Having grown up during the Harry Potter films, they needed to play adult parts rather than those of children and teenagers.
Daniel Radcliffe began to carve himself a future career during the time that the Harry Potter films were being completed. In 2007 at the Gielgud Theatre he played the lead role in Equus, about a stable boy called Alan Strang who has an obsession with horses. This play later went on to Broadway also with Daniel in the lead role. Not only was this a more adult role and a stage production rather than film, but it roused interest because within it there is a nude scene. Critics were not sure if Daniel could successful make such a transition of roles. However, they were actually quite impressed by the way he played the sinister Stang. Since then Daniel has gone on to do other film work and has shown that he is more than just the boy who played Harry Potter. He is no longer typecast.
It seems as though Jesus suffered from typecasting of a sort in his hometown of Nazareth. From what we understand of the story, Jesus had left his home at around the age of thirty to begin his brief ministry of around three years. After being baptised by John and tempted in the wilderness, he began to travel, to teach, to gather disciples and to perform miracles. His fame spread far and wide. Eventually he returned home and taught in the synagogue in Nazareth.
It wasn’t unusual to ask a visitor with teaching ability to speak in a synagogue. The problem was that Jesus was a local boy. His listeners were astounded when they heard his teaching. They acknowledged his wisdom and had obviously heard about the wonderful deeds he had done elsewhere. This event might have become the sort of story we can get in newspapers: Local boy gains fame! Those who have known such a person might bask in a little reflected glory having known him earlier in his life. It didn’t work quite like that in the Nazareth synagogue.
Rather than admiring the achievement of a local man, the people were offended by him. They recalled that he came from a local family whose members were still living there. They even recalled his rather dubious birth. Calling him ‘the son of Mary’ basically said that he was an illegitimate son. Not mentioning Joseph among family members also reinforced that they believed Jesus was not Joseph’s son. So there, in the synagogue, the people who had seen Jesus grow up were basically saying: ‘Who do you think you are? Why are you putting yourself above us? You grew up here in an ordinary family. You’re not special. In fact you’re not even as good as ordinary. We know the stories about your birth. You can’t fool us.’ What a reception! Even Jesus was amazed at their reaction. Apart from a few who had faith to be healed, no one saw anything miraculous that day.
Jesus could easily have allowed this terrible reception to have damaged his ministry but he continued to teach in other places. He increased the reach of his ministry by giving his disciples authority to do as he did. Taking nothing with them to sustain life, they went to teach, to call people to repentance, to heal and to drive out demons.
Jesus anticipated that some places might react very much as Nazareth had done, rejecting the teaching. As the passage in Ezekiel tells us, God knew that the Israelites were a stubborn and rebellious people who might well refuse to hear a prophet. The disciples were instructed to shake the dust of such places off their feet. This was what the Pharisees did symbolically when they left Gentile territory. For the disciples it was an action which showed that the people of the place were being left to God’s judgement.
It’s not just actors or Jesus who can become typecast. It can happen to us also. Those who know us well, our family and those from our local area or work, see us in a certain way. That makes it very difficult for us to be seen differently even if our behaviour changes. We might try hard to live more Christ-like lives and yet those close to us might not notice or, even worse, might be very suspicious or annoyed by the changes. We might decide to try to share our faith more but find ourselves accused of ‘preaching’ or setting ourselves up as being better than others. We might even find ourselves criticised by members of our church in some way that is really undermining.
We have a choice to make. We could allow this ‘dust’ of rejection and annoyance to cling to us. We could let it defeat us so that we give up what we set out to do. Alternatively, if we have honestly checked that there is no substance to the criticisms, we can shake the ‘dust’ off our feet and carry on just as Jesus carried on teaching after his rejection.
I know how hard it is to ignore hurtful comments, particularly from those we are close to. I wish I had followed the advice I’m now giving some years ago. I let a comment from a church leader nearly derail my faith completely. I realise now that I should have been more concerned about what God thought of me than what another fallible human being thought. I’m very grateful that God helped me overcome the problem and move on. Had he not done so I don’t think I would have been here speaking to you now.
I urge you not to be typecast by those around you but to live faithfully the calling you have from God. In that way together we can help to spread the Kingdom of God further in both our offline and online worlds.