Mark 6:1-13 (“Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown)
“Where did he get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!” (Mark 6: 2) — I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few days, as I’m sure many of you have, watching the Olympic trials. I’ve been particularly captivated by our own Michiganders – Jordan Wieber, the 16 year old gymnastics phenomenon from Dewitt, Michigan; and Tyler Clary – the extraordinary swimmer from U of M. We are filled with pride for them because whether we know them or not, they are part of us. They are our hometown heroes. We marvel at their skills and accomplishments! — “Where did they get all this? What is this gift that has been given to them? What deeds of power are being done by their hands!”
Why is it, do you think, that, we see a unique quality in some people around us (like we do for our Olympians and hometown heroes) and we want to claim them as our own, and celebrate them? But in others the quality that sets them apart becomes the very thing we can’t tolerate, and instead of honoring and celebrating that person, we scapegoat and dismiss them. In today’s Gospel we are talking about these two equal and opposite possibilities. We are dealing with the difference between a hometown hero and a hometown prophet. And Jesus was both of them.
Remember that Jesus had left home to go to other places, to Galilee and Capernaum, and the surrounding countryside. He heals people there with leprosy, and people tormented by demons. He meets with notorious sinners, Gentiles, tax collectors, prostitutes, and hundreds of others who come to Jesus for help and healing and blessing. Word spreads, and everywhere Jesus goes, scripture says “great multitudes followed him.” Sometimes so many people followed that Jesus had to get in a boat and push out into the lake so that he could speak without the people pressing in on him.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus comes back to Nazareth, as the scripture says, “to his hometown,” to his own friends and family. He comes back as their famous hometown hero, with a big reputation following him. And “on the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue,” just as he had in neighboring towns and lakesides –and Mark’s gospel says “many who heard him were astounded.” (Mark 6:2) Of course they were! Just as you and I would be. And the people say: “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!” Now let’s just rest there for a minute. They see something in Jesus . . . something unique. He’s different. He is saying things they have never heard before. They are astounded!
But then something creeps into the crowd, it infects the marveling spirit among them – as they remember . . . ‘wait a minute, this is just Jesus, the same boy we watched grow up around here.’ And then, we see the flip side start to grow. The murmuring and cocked necks, the squinted eyes, and the skepticism that creeps in. The PAUSE as we scrutinize and reject anything that really challenges us, . . . especially anyone of our own who challenges us. And then the questions change – very quickly. The people ask:
- “Wait . . . Is not this the carpenter?” (that’s a JAB – ‘carpentry is just an ordinary trade – there’s nothing so special about Jesus after all!’);
- “Is not this the son of Mary?” (that’s a JAB – ‘yes that Mary’s boy – not Joseph’s, because if you remember, Jesus is an ‘illegitimate child, . . . I’m just saying.’);
- And, “Is not this the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (that’s a JAB – ‘he’s just one of a bunch of kids who we all know, no different than any of us, no better than any of our kids.’)
. . . which is simply another way of reducing everything into just one question: the one question that we’ve heard – and perhaps said – before, (I know I have) about a friend or a neighbor, a family member, or maybe even about our own children . . . when they differ from us, or when we feel challenged by them! And the question is this: WHO DOES HE THINK HE IS? Who does he think he is . . . To tell us who we are? To tell us what we need? To tell us who God is? The scripture says, “They took offense at him.” (Mark 6:3) And that quickly (*snap*), their applause turns to rejection, they do whatever they have to do to put Jesus back in his place.
It is interesting that Jesus does not defend himself, or to try to convince them otherwise. When they ask, ‘Who do you think you are?’ Jesus simply states the truth: ‘I am a prophet.’ And here is the tension – the difference – between a hero and a prophet. . . . Whatever notions we have about that word – ‘prophets’ are not people who see into the future, and make predictions that come true as much as they are people who see us for who we are, and tell us the truth about ourselves. That’s what the word prophet means – ‘one who sees ‘– ‘one who sees through us’ – to the core, to the truth! And Jesus, the hometown hero – who had done great deeds – had also spoken some truth which challenged them.
Jesus speaks another truth to them – and to us: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own people, and in their own house.” (Mark 6:4) Ouch! That’s really hard to hear Jesus saying to us. He’s saying, ‘I’m right here, and yet you don’t see me. I’m a prophet among you, telling you who you are, and yet you don’t hear me.’ You see, we are Jesus’ hometown people. We, the church, are his family, and sometimes we’re so caught up in our institution, and our issues, that sometimes we – the hometown family and friends of Jesus – are the ones who are most blind to God’s presence, . . and we are sometimes the least likely to recognize Jesus among us. 
Mark’s Gospel says, and I quote “And Jesus 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.” (Mark 6:5) Don’t miss the impact of that little phrase – ‘Jesus could do no power there’. . . which dares to suggest that even Jesus, the son of God, can not exercise his power to free us, transform us, forgive us, and heal us from whatever torments us .. . . unless we let him!
We’ve got lots of heroes. They are all around us. But who are our prophets? Our Eucharistic prayer says, ‘We rejected the prophets,’ and we reject them still. We need prophets! Franciscan teacher and theologian, Richard Rohr, says “When the prophets are kicked out of any group, (any institution, any church, any organization, any family) the group becomes self centered and idolatrous.”
So who are our prophets? They are all around us too – sometimes the youngest among us, sometimes a co-worker or a family member, sometimes they are our own children, sometimes unconventional, most often inconvenient,. . . Maybe our first clue that a prophet is speaking to us is when we hear ourselves asking, “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?” . . . They just may the prophet we need, the ones who make us question everything, who give us the most unexpected gift of helping us to remember who we are. If we let them. Amen.
 I am indebted to a reflection “Buying the Ticket,” by Rev. Anthony Robinson for this insight. Day1.org; July 2012.
 Richard Rohr, lecture series “Way of the Prophet,” Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, NM, 2002.