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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Jesus Was Amazed - 07/08/2018

“And (Jesus) was amazed at their unbelief.”

This line in today’s Gospel kept catching my attention. It’s the word “amazed” that’s doing it. It seemed like an interesting, even strange word choice. Jesus could have been a lot of things in response to his own community doubting his teaching. Doubting the way he talked about God’s law and used examples that were certainly in keeping with the law. However, when Jesus taught the people regarding these things, God’s law was revealed as a life-giving force for the believer, not an oppressive, punitive force like so many other teachers had led them to believe.

Jesus could have really taken offense to the way they implied his deeds of power must be tricks or slight-of-hand – he’s just a carpenter, they said to minimize him. Some of them did see Jesus’ powerful deeds with their own eyes … they all heard the stories the crowd brought with it about the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years and the little Roman girl who was dead and how Jesus restored both of them.

But they knew Jesus from the time he was a little boy in the village, getting into trouble, avoiding chores, picking at his siblings, just like everyone else. So they doubt all of this … and, they go low, as if to say “this isn’t really a compelling and powerful rabbi. Look, he’s even a bastard child.” It’s his own people who point that out when they just happen to name him “son of Mary,” not son of Mary and Joseph.

And Jesus was “amazed” at their unbelief.

Maybe “amazed” stands out to me so much on this reading of the text because I’ve spent a lot of time amazed at what’s gone on around this community lately. I was amazed at the hard work and generosity that made it possible for us to send a group from Eden to the Youth Gathering in Houston last week.

I was amazed at the Gathering itself – the size of it all. It was big! 31,000 people. Texas. An enormous stage for our mass gatherings. Huge sound. So. Many. Cell. Phones. I couldn’t even begin to wrap my head around the logistics involved in getting us all where we needed to be, on time, our groups intact.

(You’ll have a chance to hear more about the Gathering next week, btw …)

And then, when we got back to town, the amazement continued. It was amazing to see how this town just exploded with people and new store fronts, gardens and flowers, while we were gone. And then, of course, the sky literally exploded with beautiful fireworks once again this year. I was amazed by them, as I always am, and the bigger-than-ever crowd that gathered on the lawn here to watch the fireworks this year.

So yes, I am probably a little more tuned into “amazing” than usual.

Still – it is an interesting work choice.

This is not a nice scene; this is not a nice human feeling Jesus is experiencing here. He is betrayed, ridiculed, undermined, and dismissed by his own family and friends. They get really mean and judge-y.  And Jesus could have responded in lots of way … our text could just as well have read “And (Jesus) was … angry, wounded, frustrated, crushed, not surprised … at their unbelief.” But nope, that’s not what we get. Jesus was amazed. And that’s kind of odd.

The word used here is θαυμάζω (thou-mad'-zo), it is also sometimes translated wondered or marveled, as in “Jesus wondered or marveled at their unbelief.”

So there it is – a curious word choice. And I tell you something: One of the most fruitful things I’ve every learned about studying the bible is that when you come upon something that seems curious for some reason, see if that word or phrase is used elsewhere and check it out because it often provides a deeper glimpse into the depths and abundance of God’s love for us and this creation.

And, as it turns out, this word has just been used in another story in Mark. When one reads or hears Mark as originally intended – in one sitting – these two stories are meant to be considered together and in comparison.

The first use of the word “amazed” comes in the story of the man from Gerasene who was possessed by demons. Jesus comes to this place with the same agenda he had when he went home to Nazareth – to teach and heal and love those he encountered along the way.

And so he comes into the Gerasene countryside a foreigner … a Jewish foreigner among Gentiles. And as Jesus so often does, he tends first to those who are alone, forgotten, given up on – like the demonized man – and Jesus restores him to health and community.

And then Jesus sends him to tell his story to others, and the central message of Jesus’ ministry: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15) When those others hear all of this, they are amazed at the belief of the man who had been given up to his demons – they marvel at his faith and wonder at the feeling of belief rising up in them too.

And I think we can safely say that Jesus is also amazed … that he wonders and marvels at the Gerasene man’s belief too. We know this because we read of other times Jesus is amazed at the belief of Gentiles or non-Jews… like the Centurion who believed Jesus could heal his beloved servant without even physically seeing him. (Mt. 8:10) Or the Syrophoenician woman whose faith blew Jesus away “Woman your faith is great!” he exclaimed in amazement (Mt. 15:28)

So, when we look at these two stories, the story of the demonized Gerasene man and the story of when Jesus went home to Nazareth, when we look at them tied by their shared themes of belief and amazement, it’s pretty clear that there are vastly different scenes taking shape in each.  And so they give us two pictures of where we can go when it comes to our belief.

Do we dismiss it as too good to be true because it just too ordinary? Do we embrace it – as foreign and different as it may seem and share it with everyone we meet?

Maybe more often we fall somewhere between these two poles. Maybe you are more like someone who believes and has experienced God’s healing and restoration and shares her story in more quiet ways or through music. Or maybe you’re like the one who tells his story of belief and healing through the way he conducts himself in the secular world, gracefully and from the perspective of an empty tomb.

It could be that this whole line of thinking challenges you too – as it should all of us Saints and Sinners from time to time in our lives. Like those times when we put our belief on a way-back burner. We believe, but we just kind of keep it to ourselves, as we join in with the town griping and gossip instead of offering a word of hope or compassion. Or when we join the ranks of those who have given up a brother or sister to their demons and let them fade into the invisible realms of our community.

Or times when we fall into the apathetic and frankly privileged spaces of believing God saved us and all of creation through Jesus – but we don’t live  like that’s a very big deal – we’re not really amazed by it all.

It’s like a flamingo fundraiser with one bird; an ELCA Youth Gathering with only 11 folks from Munising; rosebushes with no flowers; the 4th of July with no fireworks.

Yep, we all have those times on the spectrum too.

The Good News, my friends, is that Jesus is there and amazed or wondering or marveling at our belief no matter where we are on that spectrum … in all our belief and all our unbelief.  Whether we are like the healed and set free man from Gerasene or the murmuring and cynical locals of Nazareth, Jesus is there.

He sees us and our belief and is amazed at the way the story of God’s love pours forth from us.

And he’s there and wondering how to encourage us in our unbelief … finding new and ever-creative ways to kindle our faith and teach us to believe that we are indeed, freed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

And Jesus is there, my friends, marveling at our belief as we gather round this table again today to taste the bread of eternal life and the wine of salvation.

Be amazed.

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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