by Rev. Scott Summerville
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.
Have you ever felt powerless? Someone does something that hurts you or hurts them. You tell yourself you could have done something. You should have done something. You could have stopped it. But you cannot imagine how…. you recognize that you are powerless. Someone gets sick; someone dies; a global financial crisis wipes out half the equity in your home. Things are happening all the time that we cannot control.
We can all think of many ways in which we are powerless. But have you ever felt powerful? I suspect that is a more difficult question for most of us. Maybe you scored a goal on the soccer field and for an exhilarating moment you felt powerful. Maybe you got an A on a difficult test. Maybe you had a baby, and you said, “Oh my God, look what I just did!”
Maybe you found the courage to face something that was terribly difficult to face. Maybe you suffered some great setback, and you gathered your strength and made a comeback. Maybe you faced a life threatening disease and discovered you had powers within you that you never knew you had. It is important to recognize that we all have power. It may not be as great as we wish, but we all have power.
A strange thing happened in the story told in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is powerless. He is unable to do his powerful deeds in his own hometown of Nazareth. That’s an amazing thing to ponder – even Jesus did not always have the power to do great things.
1 He ….came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.
2 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!
3 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.
4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”
5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.
6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Mary Ellen recently completed her seminars on marriage, based on the book: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. One of the seven principles for making marriage work, principle number four, is: Let Your Partner Influence You. I quote from pages 100 and 101 of the book:
There was a time when a husband’s macho attitude wasn’t necessarily a liability…. [paraphrase].
“But our data suggest that this is no longer the case. In our long-term study of 130 newlywed couples, now in its eighth year, we found that even in the first few months of marriage, men who allow their wives to influence them have happier marriages and are less likely to divorce than men who resist their wives influence. Statistically speaking when a man is not willing to share power with his partner there is an 81% chance that his marriage will self-destruct.
Our study didn’t find that men should give up all of their personal power and let their wives rule their lives. But we did find that the happiest, most stable marriages in the long run were those where the husband treated his wife with respect and did not resist power-sharing and decision-making with her. When the couple disagree, these husbands actively search for common ground rather than insisting on getting their way.”
Some people need to control others in order to feel powerful. But there is a deeper kind of power, a power that is shared, something today I will call “relational power.” Relational power is when two people allow themselves to be influenced by one another, and in doing so they feel their individual power grow through the sharing of that power, rather than attempting to feel powerful to their forcefulness or ability to dominate another person.
In the Bible there are two images of Jesus and his power. In one image his power is absolute. He can do anything he wants. He can calm storms at sea. He can feed hungry people miraculously. Nothing ever surprises him, because he knows everything. But we see today that the Bible does not always present Jesus this way, and at times Jesus’ power was not absolute and unlimited. At times his power is made possible only by the response of others. It is “relational power,” as opposed to absolute power.
The idea of relational power is similar to what the marriage book was talking about. If a husband or wife can only feel powerful by exerting their will over their spouse — if a husband or wife is not open to being influenced by their partner — the data shows that in more than 80% of cases the marriage will die.
There are clergy who see their power as power over others. They believe that their role is to influence other people and not to be influenced by them. They tend to impose decisions on other people, believing that they have the right and the wisdom to exert their power in that way. But a mature leader understands that real power comes from exerting an influence over others and being willing to allow others to influence you. That’s what I’m calling relational power. It is power that is interactive and responsive to other people.
So let’s look at this strange Bible passage where Jesus cannot do what he seeks to do.
We are told that Jesus is in his home town of Nazareth in Galilee. It is the sabbath, the Jewish day of rest and prayer. Jesus was in the synagogue teaching. He already had a reputation; people had heard that the hometown boy was making a big name for himself. As he spoke in the synagogue the audience sensed something powerful in his presentation, but they were skeptical at the same time. It’s hard to be impressed by somebody you know really well, especially if you watched that person grow up, if you knew them before they had their big success. The hometown people listened to Jesus for a while, but then the grumbling began. They said, “Where did this guy get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? Where did he get these grand ideas – and where does his power come from – if in fact he has the power they say he has?” They knew him as one of them. They knew him as young man who had practiced a common trade – he was no philosopher to them, no prophet – he was a carpenter with his father – they knew his family – they knew him when he was nobody – they were not going to be easily impressed, now that he had made a name for himself.
Mark tells us that they said among themselves: “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?”
If you were raised as a Catholic, you may be confused by this reference to Jesus having sisters and brothers. Catholic doctrine is that Mary was a virgin all her life — so how did Jesus get brothers and sisters? Were they adopted? Catholic doctrine is that the sisters and brothers referred to here were cousins, not the children of Mary. Protestant doctrine does not tend to see it that way; we tend to assume that Jesus had brothers and sisters, and that Mary and Joseph got them the old fashioned way….. but I digress.
The people in Jesus’ home town were at first amazed at his words, but the more they thought about it, the more skeptical they were. They were not going to be carried away by this fellow – they knew him too well. Jesus sensed the shift in the mood of the people; he knew there was a barrier between himself and the people of his home town; he was not going to get through to them.
He summed it up this way: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”
Then comes that strange and startling thing that Mark tells us: after the people pulled back from Jesus and resisted him – his power there was lost:
Mark puts it this way:
“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…”
Jesus could do no deed of power there. Jesus – he oozes power – he has all power – he knows everything, sees everything, can do anything. He can stop the storms on the sea! He can heal the sick! He can turn water into wine! How can the words “Can’t do” and Jesus be found in the same sentence? And how can someone who knows everything be “amazed” by anything? But he was – he was amazed, Mark tells us. Jesus could do no deed of power in Nazareth, his home town.
As our nation celebrates its independence, the history of its freedoms, we find ourselves beset with crises and great challenges. We are awakening to a time in history when no nation can dominate planet Earth. No nation, however great or powerful, has the power to control the course of history. No nation has the power to solve the great problems of its own terms.
To stop the spread of nuclear weapons and to bring about the elimination of all such weapons is something that no nation can undertake on its own.
Seriously to confront climate change could bring about real change in the way human beings live in relationship to planet Earth is something no single nation can accomplish.
Women and men, especially men, are needing to shift out of a need to dominate, and instead to find their power within a relationship. Human beings, so long accustomed to pretending to dominate the forces of nature, now must learn to live in a relationship with nature. And even the most powerful nations must accept that in many ways they are powerless unless they act together with others.
Each one of us is also part of a vast mass of humanity at a time when humanity is in great crisis.
It would be logical for each one of us to say, “The problems are so vast, and I am the merest speck of a being; I am powerless to affect the world.”
There is a spiritual challenge in the present crises facing humanity. When we feel powerless, we need to remember that we are never powerless. Each of you has powers within you far beyond what you imagine. Some of you have already discovered that. Others of you will discover it in time. We are never powerless, and when we do feel powerless we should consider that even Jesus felt powerless.
In relation to the great crises of the world I may indeed be powerless as an individual. When I realize how powerless I am as a solitary individual, I can retreat and do nothing, or I can join my life with other people, who individually are just as powerless as I am, and person by person, speck by speck, powerful movements of change and hope are born. And that is what must happen now.
Shalom, salaam, grace and peace to you.