Jesus and the Chieftain Project-Mark 6:1-13
The kid who left home and made it big came back to town.
He’d gained a title since he left,
and crowds followed him around like paparazzi, hoping to catch a glimpse.
You’d think that the people who knew Jesus back in the day would have claimed him proudly, saying,
“I knew the rabbi when he was just this tall….”
“His family lived down the street….”
“Me and the teacher go way back…”
But that’s not how it went down.
The carpenter turned rock star came home to astonishment:
What wisdom, what deeds of power!
Which turned to doubt:
Where did he get all of this? We know that family, they aren’t scholars.
Which turned to insult:
He’s Mary’s son, (in other words, not Joseph’s)
hinting at the scandal people have whispered about for years.
And then, Mark says, “They took offense at him.”
Why did they take offense at him?
It’s a strong thing to say.
I can understand that they might overlook or dismiss someone so familiar to them,
After all, Jesus was someone they thought they knew; their minds were made up about him long ago.
But to take offense?
That’s what happens when someone does something to you that seems personal.
But I guess that IS what they thought
Jesus, come home with all the knowledge of a wise old rabbi and the healing power of a holy man,
Threw all their presuppositions into question.
In order to take him seriously, they needed to change their minds.
And that was a threatening proposition to these people of Nazareth.
It suggests something Jesus represented something that challenged their way of life,
Something contrary to their belief system.
So instead of taking him seriously, they took offense.
We know what it is like to have people take offense.
It happens every day, especially in the polarized political environment in which we currently live.
People have diverse life experiences and values, and it challenges us
So instead of accepting and learning, sometimes it’s easier to dismiss them than listening.
But occasionally spaces are created for dialogue.
I witnessed one in the play my daughter Stephanie co-wrote with three classmates
Over the course of 18 months on the debate in West Hartford over the high school mascots in 2015.
The students wrote the non-fiction play based on extensive interviews
with coaches, teachers, former students, school administrators and retired educators
who went through months of intense debate about Conard’s name “The Chieftains”
and the school mascot, which featured a Native American head.
The play was intended to “encourage respectful and valuable discussion”
The script illustrated the convictions of both sides:
Those who thought the use of headdresses, war bonnets and tomahawks was inappropriate, and those who saw a long standing and beloved tradition at risk.
The thing I loved most about the play – other than my obvious bias of being Steph’s mom-
Was that it created an opportunity to listen to many perspectives and to reflect on the discussion six year on.
Both sides argued from deeply held values
At times listening to each other,
and other times making presumptions and exchanging angry social media posts.
One of the most poignant scenes portrayed the two teachers at the forefront of the debate, one for keeping the mascot and one for abolishing it.
They were friends at school, had taught together for decades,
But could just not see eye to eye on the issue.
They had tried to find a compromise position,
figuring that if the two lead teachers on the opposing sides could come to an agreement,
Then the students and community would follow suit.
But they couldn’t compromise, and it clearly broke their hearts.
Stephanie and her co-creators had some resistance to staging the show.
Some community members had worried the play would stir up a sleeping giant
and revive the controversy,
But it actually was an opportunity to reconsider and to heal.
The final words of the play, spoken by the character who actually designed the mascot, summed it up what she hoped would come from telling her story:
“In the midst of all this craziness in our country, I feel like this is the time
where it’s important to like, kind of take a step back and
remind ourselves that regardless of our political perspective,
we’re all human. We’re all people who care about other people.
We care about school spirit, you know in our individual and very
different ways, and it’s important to think about how we can
become welcoming to everybody.”
This quote gets at what I think was most important about this play:
It humanized each character.
These were real people with real convictions and feelings, talking about what mattered to them.
Each perspective had its internal logic, and I found if I allowed myself,
I could identify in some way with each person.
In a world of such a variety of human experience, conflict is inevitable.
Sometimes there are people who are insensitive and even purposely hurtful.
Sometimes we can’t help but take offense—or cause it by our own ignorance.
And so I think it is instructive to note
that when Jesus did not find a space to share his convictions and be heard,
He did NOT take offense.
He did not shut down, censor himself, and decide it wasn’t worth discussing.
Instead he shook off the rejection and kept speaking his message.
He taught his disciples to do the same when he sent them out.
He short circuited the patterns of rejection fostering rejection, conflict engendering fight or flight.
He listened to the people around him whether they were rich Pharisee or ostracized women,
Political zealot or foreigner with a past.
Jesus kept the conversation going, and most importantly, was open to change.
This play and this gospel lesson lead me to wonder:
How can we as a faith community foster spaces of dialogue?
Can we teach and model laying aside the temptation to categorize and dismiss?
Can we listen to each other beyond the divides that separate our culture?
Can we find the humanity in our adversaries, as Jesus said, to love our enemies?
What is at stake, as in this gospel lesson, is the kingdom of God.
Because in God’s kingdom, all people are valued as unique children of God.
In God’s kingdom, thoughtful positions and experiences are respected and heard.
Because in the end, Jesus was preaching God’s kingdom of repentance,
Repentance means being open to the change of heart and mind that makes us see differently.
May we find ways to create spaces for listening, openness and charity
That we may see the humanity in others
And be open to the changes that make way for the God’s kingdom.