Throughout this liturgical year the Sunday gospel has been from Mark. One of the passages we skipped is Mark 6:1-14. In this passage Jesus preaches in the synagogue of his hometown of Nazareth after teaching and performing miracles in many other places. Many are “astounded.” “Where is he getting all this wisdom? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!” Then we hear, “And they took offense at him.” Why would they take offense at that?
Maybe we skip it as a Sunday Gospel because there is a very similar story in Luke that is on the liturgical calendar in another year. It is also the story of the first time Jesus taught in the Nazareth synagogue. Jesus stands up to read and chooses a passage from Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”
Like the astonished people in Mark, “all spoke well of him and were amazed.” Jesus tells them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Their reaction was more than taking offense. They tried to throw him off a cliff.
This incongruent response makes me think of one of my favorite prayers. It appears several times in The Book of Common Prayer, including the Easter Vigil and at ordinations.
“O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working out of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
- The Book of Common Prayer 1979 p. 291
I still love that prayer, but when I put it next to the experience of Jesus in his hometown synagogue, there is a glaring contradiction. We ask God to help us, “carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation.” The response to Jesus was anything but tranquil. Indeed, when Jesus could have chosen “tranquility” he chose the cross.
Michael Curry reminds us who we are. “We are the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the Dream God has for it.” And when we, as humble sinners, name the nightmares and work for change, it is not work carried out in tranquility. In my experience, when we address the public health crisis of gun violence, it is not met with tranquility. Nor are the other pressing issues of our day which include climate change, systematic racism, immigration, income inequality, and more.
The change Jesus brings about in the world upsets the status quo. It creates turbulence. That turbulence may never be violent for followers of Jesus. Using our voices for advocacy, “praying with our feet” in the streets, praying the truth of injustice in our worship – this is how “things (and people) cast down are raised up.”
The monk Thomas Merton writes, “The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.” Jesus gave us a vision of the Kingdom of God: a world of mercy, compassion and hope. As followers of Jesus, we humbly engage this world. We use the power of love (not the love of power) to reshape the world to be all God intends it to be – even if this work cannot be done “in tranquility.”
But what if I’m misinterpreting this prayer? Maybe the tranquility is not an outward tranquility but an inner tranquility. I know many people who are working to move us from the nightmare to the dream who have an inner peace. It comes from knowing they are following the way of love, which includes love for those with different opinions, and who make different choices. Jesus says the kingdom is “within” us. And he loved those who “took offense” at him – even the ones who tried to throw him off a cliff.
God’s power is unchangeable, and through Christ, it courses through the Church. It has never been easy to follow Jesus. There are dangerous cliffs to avoid and systems to unsettle. May we remain steadfast in the tranquility that comes from God’s abiding presence. May we each, with the Church, do our part for the plan of salvation.