Saint Mark, icon by the hand of Monica Thornton

Homily: Jesus Christ, suffering servant

Delivered at Saint Paul’s, Riverside on 5 July 2015.

“And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching” (Mk 6:6).

Brothers and sisters, spend time this week reflecting on this description of Jesus. This is St Mark describing Jesus doing ministry in his own country. Jesus—already being followed by great crowds, crowds that throng about him. Jesus—already performing great and mighty works— miracles of healing, of taming the waters, of exorcising demons, of raising a girl from the dead, such as we have been hearing. Jesus—with his elected twelve disciples, who have been hearing and reflecting upon these mysterious parables spoken by Jesus to larger crowds but explained by Jesus to them as means for more intimate spiritual direction.

Spend time this week reflecting that in his own community, surrounded by both disciples and relatives, who possess “first-century eyes,” as we have been discussing, Jesus could do no mighty work, save a few healings, with this particular group of people, for the most part.

Yet this is Jesus, the God-Man. Can we doubt that Jesus was as emboldened as Ezekiel the prophet—to “be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit upon scorpions”? Doubtless these prefigure Jesus’s passion, wearing a crown of thorns amid a rebellious, antagonistic crowd out for blood. And can we doubt that, like St Paul, Jesus lived with profound visions of the truth, even mystical visions of reality, of paradise, of heaven itself, yet was never “too elated” by them to be able to teach others?

For whatever visions Paul was given through a glass darkly, such were perfect visions in the senses and mind of Christ. Jesus, we must always remember, is the perfect pray-er. From his Nativity through his childhood and into his public ministry as an adult, through it all in every moment, the “whole life of Christ was one of unbroken adoration”—a “perpetual adoration.”[1] We forget this because of how constant his prayer was. Yet his unceasing prayer—his adoration of the Father—is as important to our salvation, and the redemption of the world, as his Passion, for the Passion is but another way we see the prayer of Jesus, his Incarnation made manifest.

Jesus is our high priest. Jesus is our Messiah of the Remnant Church. And here, St Mark’s emphasizes also that Jesus is the Suffering Servant. Scholars confirm that our Gospel passage is one of many moments in the Gospels that recapitulate the “suffering servant” motif found particularly in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. As one scholar writes: “The characteristics of God’s chosen servant are that he is quiet and restrained; no loud proclamations herald his activity,” that is, “no conquering hero of popular Judaism.”[2]

The suffering servant, in his humility, teaches us how to live. The suffering servant, in the pain received from our transgressions, bears our grief and sorrow, is bruised for our iniquities—and yet through all, his stripes, his wounds, heal us. The suffering servant, through the example of his own life, gives to our lives spiritual direction.

These are all qualities perfected in the life of Jesus Christ. They are evoked in our Gospel from St Mark. Jesus’s ministry is not remote and insular but with the people in the community. Jesus does not get into indiscriminate arguments on Facebook about the true God, but is largely restrained—he does not lash back at his community for the offense they take at his words, but with a wounded yet brave face “marvels because of their unbelief.” He is not callous or thick-headed to the reactions around him, but has the utmost sensitivity to them. How does he react? He reacts by accepting the truth of reality at that given moment—“a prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house,”—and by doing the quiet and restrained work that he can—laying his hands upon a few sick people and healing them. And then by going about his daily business, “among the villages teaching.”

This moment for Jesus, with this rebellious people whose hearts most assuredly were hardened, did not present a hill that Jesus chose to die upon. He picked his battles and this was not one of them. Not only politics, but in a notable sense ministry itself, is the art of the possible.

Yet it is an art of the possible that relies upon the hard rock of orthodoxy. Ministry is the art of the possible that knows that God is present—here and in all places. Ministry is the art of the possible that does not shy away from speaking the truth, yet is realistic about outcome. Because ministry tills the ground—and sometimes the ground is rocky, arid, and inhospitable! And, always, we are frail, imperfect, likely to sin. God knows this, God expects this, God forgives this. God loves us for our frailty. God loves us for our imperfections. God loves us despite our sin.

Let us, in our ministry rooted in our baptismal covenant and enacted in our prayer which is our lives, be bold, humble, and realistic. Let us be bold like Ezekiel—recognize the Holy Spirit lives in our bodies, and be not afraid of the words he guides us to speak. Let us be humble like Paul—we are given an abundance of revelations about the truth of ultimate reality, yet the world remains fallen, original sin remains real, and our bodies often sick, frail and tired. And let us be realistic like Jesus—those who do not have ears to hear, won’t. Yet, we must always believe, those who do have ears to hear, will.

It is the duty of the Church to perpetuate the Incarnation. May our lives be the bold, humble and realistic hands of Christ. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God described to us and to the whole Church, all might, majesty, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

[1] Martin Thornton, The Heart of the Parish, chapter 6.
[2] Dr Guillaume, as quoted ibid.

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton.