Monday, July 8, 2024

Plan B


Mark 6:1-13

Proper 9 / Year A

One of the features of our recent readings from the Gospel of Mark is Jesus constantly on the move.  After taking up residence in the lakeside town of Capernaum he sails to gentile territory on the other side of the Galilean Sea and then returns to Capernaum.  Today finds him visiting to his childhood home of Nazareth, some 25 miles to the southwest.  All the while he has in tow a small group of disciples. 

Three things seem to happen at nearly every stop.  First, Jesus is besieged.  Second, he is beset with requests for healing.  And finally, he is ridiculed and attacked either by authorities from Jerusalem or people very close to him, his own family and friends.  Now, I know this is not the typical picture we paint of Jesus’ ministry.  We tend to think of him as being wildly popular and overwhelming successful. But, if we are true to the biblical text – at least up to this point – we have to admit in the early going there are bumps in the road.

Perhaps the biggest bump comes in Nazareth.  In Jesus’ day it is a close-knit community not much bigger than a few city blocks here in downtown Suffolk.  It goes without saying everybody knows you and you know everyone.  Jesus returns and heads to the synagogue.  Everyone in town – and I mean everyone – is there. 

Jesus teaches and the people who watched him grow up are astounded.  Where did he get all this wisdom?  Apparently, Jesus was not a Rhodes Scholar.  Where did he get this power?  After all, he is merely the son of a carpenter!  Now, in that day, the profession of carpentry is near the bottom of the social ladder, even lower the field peasant.  Who taught him all these things?  Isn’t this Mary’s son?  In Hebrew culture a man is always referred to by his first name, say John, followed by the name of his father, son of Zebedee.  To refer to Jesus as son of Mary casts aspirations on lineage, suggesting he is illegitimate. 

Do these insults hurt?  You bet they do.  Jesus quotes an old adage: a prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown.  What a shock it must have been for Jesus to be able to do no good works among his neighbors and kin and family.  But more than being rejected personally, Jesus is concerned (as always) with the spread of the Good News of the kingdom. 

In today’s world we talk about Plan B.  It is a contingency for when things don’t go as expected.  In order to institute Plan B you must embrace the reality Plan A is not getting you where you want to go.  It calls for reflection, learning, and positivity – the notion you can overcome your challenges and accomplish what you set out to do, only in a new way.  Developing a Plan B involves taking stock in your resources, doing more research on potential strategies, and developing a new plan.

Mark does not describe the self-reflection Jesus goes through, only the outcome.  Based on the changes he makes, it seems likely Jesus realizes the work is centered too much on him.  As a result, wherever he goes he is either mobbed or maligned or both.  How can he shift the focus from himself to the kingdom he proclaims?

As Jesus takes stock in what he has, surely he realizes his greatest resource comes from the power of God at work in him.  But he also discerns he has a tremendous resource in the energy, dedication, and enthusiasm or his disciples.  If he sends them out to proclaim the words of the kingdom and to do its works then the focus will shift from him to what he is trying to accomplish.  And so this is what does.  In groups of two they fan out to all the towns and villages of the region and by all accounts they have great success.

I always notice Jesus tells them to take a staff and sandals (what they need for traveling), but not bread or money (what they need to survive).  They are to go forward with faith God will provide for them.  I also notice the direction to stay in the home of a person who welcomes you and to shake off the dust on your shoes from those who don’t.  It suggests some people will be with you all the way, while others are not going to be willing or able to come along.  So be it.

Sean Rowe, our Presiding Bishop-elect, has signaled to the church we are in a Plan B moment.  The clearest sign of this is his desire to have a scaled down installation service on November 1.  The savings to dioceses in travel time and lodging of bishops alone will be enormous.  What Bishop Rowe is emphasizing is exactly what Jesus does in today’s reading.  Our church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel is not changing, but under Plan B the methods we employ to do it will change. 

I can’t recall a person at St. Paul’s ever saying, “We have never done it that way before.”  We seem to be open to innovation (especially when it is accompanied by reflection).  As your rector it has always been important to me to follow the energy in the parish.  Where is there opportunity?  Where is there enthusiasm?  Lets go with it because this is where God’s Spirit is moving.  Where is the energy draining out of us?  Perhaps it is time to let go and move on… or at the very least to consider a Plan B.  Know this: the Spirit is always at work in and through our parish.  It is our blessed opportunity to align ourselves with its stirring and, as Jesus does in today’s reading, to adjust and to adapt to changing circumstances in order for the mission to go on.