Text: Mark 6:1-13
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Familiarity breeds contempt. You’ve probably heard that old saying or proverb before. The idea is that the more familiar or well known or common something is or becomes the less we respect and appreciate it.
I tried this week to find out where that saying or proverb comes from, but I didn’t have much luck. Apparently the earliest known reference to those words is in a book of poetry written in the year 1386, nearly 700 years ago, but it is more than likely that the saying already existed long before that point. It is almost a universal human truth, probably going right back to Adam and Eve and the fall into sin. The more acquainted we are with someone or something the less we value them or it.
Our gospel reading today demonstrates just how true this proverb is and always has been. Jesus goes to Nazareth, the town in which He was raised, and He preaches at the local synagogue. Now, you’d expect that everyone there would be happy to see Jesus. He is undoubtedly the most significant, influential, and famous person to ever come out of their little, tiny, insignificant village. This ought to be a grand-homecoming party for the ages. But it wasn’t.
Jesus preached in the synagogue that morning and the people were amazed and astonished. They said to each other, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works 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 then they “took offense at Him.”
Taking offense or being offended in the Bible doesn’t mean quite the same thing that it means in the world today. In the world today everyone gets offended about everything. You look at a person the wrong way and they get offended. You share your personal opinions too loudly and people are offended. But these “offenses” really are just hurt feelings. In the Bible taking offense or being offended is not a matter or hurt feelings, it is about being scandalized or stumbling in faith. When the people of Nazareth took offense at Jesus it was not simply because something He said offended them or hurt their feelings, it was because they refused to believe in Him.
The question is why, why did they take offense, why did they refuse to believe in Him? The answer is because familiarity breeds contempt. Jesus was so familiar to the people in Nazareth. They had watched Him grow up, they seen Him as a boy who was just like all the other boys in town, they had hired his (earthly) father, the carpenter Joseph, to do work in and around their homes, perhaps Jesus had even helped his father as an assistant or taken up the family business as a carpenter for a few years Himself. Regardless, the people in the Nazareth synagogue that day looked at Jesus and saw the same old Jesus they had always known. They saw a carpenter from Nazareth. They could not believe His words about the Kingdom of God. They could not believe that the son of Mary who lives just around the corner could possibly be doing all miracles that they had heard about Him doing in other places. He was just so ordinary, so familiar, and they could not see past their familiarity and they held Him in contempt refusing to believe in Him.
Now we have to ask ourselves what this has to do with us today. We are not, after all, members of the synagogue in Nazareth who watched Jesus grow up and are so familiar with Him that we find it hard to believe in Him. No, we look back on Jesus and know that He was not just some carpenter, He was the Saviour of the world. We look back on Him and know that He was not simply the son of Mary, but also the Son of God in human flesh. We know and believe these things, so what does this have to do with us?
We need to look at the ways that Jesus comes to us today to see the answer to that question. Jesus walked into the synagogue in Nazareth that day and started preaching, but that is not exactly how Jesus comes to us today, is it?
Jesus has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God on high. As such, Jesus fills all things and is in all things and surrounds all things. But Jesus has promised to come to us today in very specific ways. In fact, you could say that Jesus has promised to come to us in very ordinary or familiar ways. He has not promised to come to us through flashy miracles that will draw the eyes of thousands of people or through great displays of power that will impress us and embolden us in faith. Jesus has promised to come to us through simple, ordinary, familiar things like water, bread and wine, and words.
Let’s start with the water. In the water of Baptism Jesus has come to us. In that water He washed us and made us clean, cleansing us from each and every sin. In that water He reached down from heaven, marked us with the sign of the holy cross, wrote the triune name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit on our hearts, and made us His own.
Then there is the bread and wine. In that bread and wine Jesus comes to us with His own body and blood to forgive our sins, strengthen our faith, and fill us with His love so that we might love God and love one another. In that bread and wine He feeds us with Himself with the food of everlasting life.
And then there’s the Word. The Word is in the other two (with the water and the bread and wine) too, but in His Word, in the words of Scripture as we read it, as it is read in the service, and as the pastor preaches it, Jesus Himself comes to us and speaks to us. He announces to each of us each and every time we hear it the forgiveness of sins that we have in His name through His suffering and death on the cross. Each time He declares His undying love for you that sent Him to the cross to bear your sin and the sin of the entire world.
These things are so simple, so ordinary, and so familiar that there is a very real danger that we might overlook them, underestimate them, or take them for granted. It’s even possible that we, like the people in the Nazareth synagogue that day, might take offense at them (in the biblical sense of that word) and not believe in them.
I want to share with you two examples from quite recently in my own life of how real a possibility this is. Both of these examples are specific to God’s Word, but the principle applies to Baptism and Holy Communion too.
First, I was reading a bedtime Bible story from a children’s Bible to my kids. This is something we do every night. I happened that night to choose the story that we read last week in our gospel reading, the story of Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead, that night. When we reached the end of the story and read the part about Jesus taking the little girl by the hand and raising her from the dead I heard all of a sudden a gasp from beside me. One of the girls had been holding her breath. She was enthralled by the story, almost in tears, caught up in the drama of the events that we had just read about, fully in awe of the power of Jesus to heal and save and His compassion and love that would bring Him to this little girl’s bedside so that she could be restored to life. This made me think, how often do we read the same old familiar stories and not take them to heart?
Then, just a few days later, I was doing my morning devotions and discovered that one of the readings was from the book of Acts. It was one of the same readings that we had studied in Tuesday/Wednesday morning Bible study not long ago. Instantly I found myself thinking about skipping that reading because I have already studied it and I know it. Surely such a reading would have nothing left to teach me. But then it hit me, “How arrogant can you get?” I thought to myself, “This is God’s Holy Word, surely it has more to teach you than you can ever know!” But familiarity breeds contempt.
Brother and sisters in Christ, Jesus comes to you today. He comes to you in such familiar things, in water, bread and wine, and words, with mighty works of power. He comes to you in these familiar means to forgive your sins and give you life. He comes to you in these familiar means to heal and save your sin sick soul. He comes to you in these familiar means to pour our His love and compassion on you. He comes to you in these familiar means to assure you of His constant presence with you and to strengthen you for the living of this life so that you may endure into the life to come. These familiar means are a reason to rejoice. Let’s not let the familiarity breed contempt, let’s let it breed joy. Let’s let it breed joy that knows and rejoices that our God would come to us to save us now and forever. Let’s let it breed joy in knowing that Christ Jesus is here now among us to heal and save. The joy of the familiar. In His name, Amen.