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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 6:1–13

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 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! 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?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. (NRSV)

This is a rare instance in the New Testament that grants human agency decisive influence in a confrontation with God’s will. Jesus wants to do “deeds of power” in his hometown, but he can’t. Peoples’ unbelief is too strong. Jesus is amazed and, apparently (though not completely), handcuffed.

It catches my attention because the center of gravity for a Presbyterian apprehension of the gospel of grace is that God’s will is primary and can’t be thwarted by us. It’s why we baptize babies, as a sign that God acts in mercy and love toward us before we know even know enough to decide if we believe in God at all. Presbyterian theology would never say anything like, “If you don’t do X, then God can’t do Y.” We’re more like, “God’ did Y while you were making up your mind about X.”

Yet Jesus’ merciful intentions were at least obstructed by the lack of faith he encountered in his hometown. It’s probably best not to overlook that.

Maybe it’s that faith and trust grease the wheels of healing. Or maybe a magnet is a better analogy; maybe mercy is pulled toward the open heart. Maybe those are both wrong.

The grace of Jesus does not operate on laws of spiritual physics. That’s what makes it grace: it’s unpredictable. It shows up where we don’t expect (or even want) it to, and it’s sometimes not apparent in places we have every reason to see it, like Jesus’ own hometown.

Thanks be to God for the mystery of grace.

Give us faith, O God, to see the work you want to do in our midst. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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