Reflection for 4thJuly 2021
Mark 6:1-13 & 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
What did people expect from Jesus? The people of his home town clearly expected him to be one thing and one thing only; the man from Nazareth. They expected him to be a worker in wood, the son of his parents, brother to his siblings, nothing different, nothing challenging, nothing to make a person look at their life in a new way. So when his neighbours saw that Jesus was doing something they didn’t expect, things that a lad from a backwater town wasn’t supposed to do, they turned away from him. Their expectations got in the way and they couldn’t see what was being offered – a journey with Jesus towards wholeness and the fulness of life that God intends.
So, what did Jesus expect from the people he came to, what does he expect from us? Firstly, Jesus knows people, knows them really well, has walked in our shoes, has known of life’s pressures and temptations. We have just spoken the words of the Collect for Purity at the beginning of this worship;
to you all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from you no secrets are hidden.
God knows our every thought and temptation, impulses good and bad, so the fact that we all fail and fall sometimes is no surprise. Jesus knows us better than we do ourselves, and welcomes us anyway. But secondly, Jesus is aware of how precious each person is to God, how ‘wonderfully made’ we each are as the Psalmist says, and how full of potential. We can all receive the love that God offers, and share that love with those around us.
Jesus asks us to trust him so that we can do the ordinary, everyday things in ways that make God’s love know, living our real lives in ways that his loving presence makes possible. With Jesus the ordinary may become surprising, what we expected may turn out to actually reveal a new way of looking at the world, and we may come to see the wonder that God has put into each one of us. And just as the people of Jesus’ home town got much more than they bargained for from him, so also Jesus’ followers found that they were capable of more than they expected of themselves – they found that they were turning the world upside-down, challenging expectations, starting to be shaped by the priorities of God, moving at the pace of God’s Kingdom.
St Paul too was committed to living out the priorities of God, telling the Good News of Jesus and supporting and guiding the communities that formed as the church began to grow. He also faced challenges to his leadership, in this case in Corinth, from those who seemed to want to pick fault with Paul himself, say that they were in some way superior to him so that they could justify leading the church in a different way. He rejected the invitation to boast about himself in order to justify his message – his message of a crucified saviour turned that on its head in fact. He also admitted that there wassomething, his ‘thorn in the flesh’ as he called it, that was causing him great concern; maybe a physical ailment, emotional or spiritual, we don’t know.
He initially thought that he needed to get rid of it in order to continue his ministry properly, so he asked God to remove this ‘thorn’. God did not do this, but instead reassured Paul, ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ If Paul continued to rely on God’s strength not his own, then even withthis ‘thorn in the flesh’ the message of love and grace freely given would be all the more powerful.
We don’t have to be perfect to follow Jesus, we don’t have to be perfect to love our neighbour, we don’t have to be perfect to be in God’s service. Yes, we are striving to be more and more like Jesus, but not only in our own strength. We all need the help of those gifts that the Spirit gives to renew and inspire us, and the assurance of forgiveness when we admit our faults. Neither are we on our own, we travel with our companions in the body of Christ, and Christ’s presence leads us onward on our journey of faith. Jesus offers us his strength to live in ways that show his extraordinary grace; in our weakness and in our rising up, in what we lack, in our suffering, and in what we accomplish, all with his generous love, all more than we can ask or imagine. We used the beginning of the Collect for Purity earlier. It seems appropriate to finish with the rest of this beautiful, expectant and powerful prayer, as it reminds us of the wonder and possibilities that life in the company of Jesus calls us to.
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name,
through Christ our Lord.