Psalm 146, 147 (Morning)
Psalm 111, 112, 113 (Evening)
Job 4:1-6, 12-21
Mark 6:1-6a (NRSV): 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.
“And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.”
I always get a bit of a chuckle at that line. It’s all about perspective, isn’t it?
It sounds a little like, “Well, he couldn’t do squat in that town…oh, um..well, except, oh…I guess he did heal a few people and stuff. But other than THAT, he really didn’t do a flippin’ thing,” doesn’t it?
From Mark’s perspective, it was a “bad healing day.”
From the perspective of those “few sick people,” I imagine it was a very good day, indeed.
It’s a reminder of those corners parishes can paint themselves in, if folks start focusing too hard on defining a successful church in terms of average Sunday attendance or amount of money in the Offering. Those things like the baptism-to-funeral ratio or number of people who left during an interim can not only be very mind-limiting, they minimize the real transformation of life that might be occurring in front of our nose.
Hearing people talk about the old days when the pews were full and looking at present-day numbers of church attendance can get pretty depressing fast. But in my mind, those discussions remind me of the kinds of musings that people have over baseball players of the past and present–things like “What would Cy Young’s ERA have been?” “How would Babe Ruth have fared against (fill in the blank with your baseball pitcher of choice.) But in those musings, we leave out a lot of truth. Cy Young was pitching back when spitballs were still legal. Babe Ruth didn’t have to contend with a bevy of specialized relief pitchers. Young pitched in an era when the ball was pretty dead. Ruth played at a time there were a lot of short right field fences and, as a left-hander, Yankee Stadium was built to accommodate that. It wasn’t “better,” or “worse,” or “easier,” or “harder,” it was just different.
The same goes for churches. Somewhere in that time of American history when we started moving everything on the business model, churches went there too. But this is not just something that popped up in the late 19th and early 20th century. From the moment Christianity stopped being a counter-cultural movement, and part of the social fabric of the realm (best illustrated by Constantine’s conversion,) from the time it moved from being contrary to the power structure to THE power structure, it had signed on with the fates of the dominant power and culture. In the 1950’s, mainline Christian denominations did not have to contend with an uncertain economy, vocal anti-theist movements, competing social connections on Sunday, and online forms of social gathering. Parents don’t feel as compelled to force Christian formation on children as they once did.
Yet, along the way, there are still stories of healing and transformation–a different kind of growth. It’s just that this growth is below the radar and is evidenced in an ancient way–storytelling and sharing meals and activities as an intentional community. This kind of growth is harder to pick up in the noise and bling of today’s culture of busy-ness.
We also forget that we don’t get a crystal ball view into where this transformation is going. It’s too easy to get wrapped up in the grief of losing what we used to know as “the church,” and too much of it takes away from what has yet to be. We don’t know how successive generations see a relationship with God in community. We have no way to predict that. But what we can see is that in an era of unlimited choices, people yearn for the authentic–yet they are often not quite sure how to get there. In that milieu, being authentic in our relationship with God becomes an important signpost on the journey.
Our Gospel doesn’t give us a window into what changed in the lives of those “few people who got healed.” We only hear about them in Mark’s context of a not-so-good day in the life of Jesus’ ministry. What changes in our perspective when we focus on recognizable transformation in the life of the church?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid