“So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent”. Mark 6:12
Return, reject, refuse and reject are four words that capture a sense of Saint Mark Chapter 6 Verses 1-13.
Jesus returns to his own community, he comes back to the place people saw as being his home, he returns to the people who knew his family background. Verses 1-2 of Saint Mark Chapter 6 tell us, “He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded.” Jesus would have known what sort of welcome would have awaited him when he went to the synagogue, he knew what sort of reaction there might be, but Jesus goes there anyway because it is part of his mission.
As Christians, as people who say we follow Jesus, do we follow his example? Jesus could have avoided a situation he knew would only bring unhappiness, but he goes and faces it. How readily do we face awkward things? If somewhere or something has been difficult, we usually don’t want to return, but following Jesus may mean going back to solve problems and heal hurts from the past. Are we ready to return to the painful places through which we have travelled so as to put right what was wrong?
Reject is our second word. Whatever Jesus said or did, the people of the town were determined to reject him, determined to believe that he is no more than an ordinary man whose family they knew. In Verses 2-3, 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?” They acknowledge the wisdom of what Jesus has been teaching, they acknowledge the power that Jesus has displayed in healing people, but they will not acknowledge Jesus. Verse 3 describes their reaction to Jesus in very succinct terms, “And they took offence at him.” Jesus speaks publicly about that rejection, in Verse 4 he says, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” Rejection curtails the work Jesus could have done, Saint Mark writes, “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” This rejection was something that even Jesus himself found difficult to understand, “And he was amazed at their unbelief”, says Verse 6.
Despite all his wise teaching, despite all his great deeds, Jesus was rejected. Are we prepared to accept that being faithful to God may mean that we meet not success, but rejection? Are we prepared to accept that we might find ourselves unpopular, that we might be a minority of one? The path Jesus invites his friends to follow is not an easy one. Jesus sends them out two by two and offers them no comfortable way of life. Verses 8-9 tell us, “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.” Have no comforts and be prepared to be rejected, discipleship is to be no easy option.
To return, to be rejected, the third word is “refuse.” In Verse 10, we read, “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.'” Jesus is plain about the response to those who do not wish to hear, just walk away. People had a choice about whether or not they welcomed the Good News; there would be some who would not even give the disciples a hearing, that was their choice. The people who refused to welcome the disciples probably did so for many different reasons, some of the reasons may have come from their religious beliefs, other reasons may have had more to do with people’s fears than their religious convictions. Whatever their reasons, their refusal would bring a testimony against them.
Rejection comes from people who have thought about things and decided against accepting them, to the amazement of even Jesus; refusal comes from those who will not even consider what is said, “they refuse to hear you.” Twenty centuries after Jesus, our experience is likely to be one of encountering refusal rather than rejection. People are indifferent, not wanting to hear so as not to have to think. The response that Jesus suggests we make is not to waste time, to shake the dust from our feet and to move on. Refusal is a choice people have made and for which they accept the consequences.
Return, reject and refuse: the final word is repent, Verse 12 says,”So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.” Jesus began his ministry with a call to people to repent. In Saint Mark Chapter 1 Verse 15. Jesus declares, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” The Greek word for repentance, “metanoia” literally means “after one’s mind”; having thought, or said, or done something wrong, one thinks back on it and says “sorry”. Turning to God was at the heart of the history of Israel. The people to whom the disciples spoke would have often heard the stories from Scripture of the sin and then the repentance of the people.
We are little different from the people of Jesus’ time. Our greatest difficulty with repentance is that it is always easy to see the need of someone else for it, but not so easy to see our own need. It is a difficulty Jesus identifies in Saint Matthew Chapter 7 Verse 3, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” How often do the rejection or the refusal of the Good News come not from what the Good News itself says or asks, but from the failure of those of us who have been entrusted with telling the Good News to repent of our own failings?
May we have the courage to return, the grace to cope with rejection and refusal, and the humility to repent.