This is unbelievable! they said. Just listen to that incredible wisdom - I’ve never heard anything like it. And how ‘bout those powerful miracles? Just stunning.
I can’t believe this is this kid I used to know! Unbelievable!
So they didn’t believe.
I feel sad when I read that.
Not so much sad for Jesus, though I expect he’s frustrated and disappointed that he can’t do much for his hometown.
But sad for his neighbors, the family friends; the ones who know all his brothers’ names and hang out with his sisters, and who were so stunned by the spiritual wisdom and powerful signs of God’s presence around Jesus that they just couldn’t take it in and gave it up.
I’m sad for them, because it happens to me, too.
I lose track of wonder by focusing on the ordinary.
I resist miracles in my familiar territory, preferring to keep things close to me as rational and ordinary as possible.
I love to believe in the healing power of God for illness in general, and to believe in the skill of my doctor for my own healing.
I like a book I can put my hands on, or the advice of trusted friends, when I’m personally looking for what’s true; and though in the abstract I love the idea of God miraculously revealing truth and wisdom, I’m skeptical when someone tells me they’ve got a Word straight from God for me.
I need to be reminded regularly that just because I’m used to something, that doesn’t mean it’s not a miracle; just because I understand something, that doesn’t mean it’s not from God. Just because a leaping cat, a wise friend, the relief of the common cold, the sunlight on the leaves outside my window, the remission of cancer through modern medicine, and the internet are perfectly ordinary parts of everyday life, that doesn’t mean they aren’t each a divine miracle, worthy of wonder, joy, and open-hearted awe.
So I’m sad when Jesus’ neighbors miss that joyful wonder when he comes home, and they expect him to become an ordinary guy among them. Sad because I know that wonder mostly comes to us when we are open to it, and that’s the faith that Jesus was looking for at home. Because healing comes when I’m willing to trust my brokenness to someone else; and that’s the faith that Jesus was looking for at home. Because we only fall into the hands of God when we stop holding on to what we can know and do for ourselves, and that’s the faith that Jesus was looking for.
Still is looking for, in fact.
When he’s amazed at the lack of that kind of faith in his hometown – when the deeds of power, revelations of wisdom, and miraculous healings he brings with him vanish into his neighbors’ insistence on the ordinary – Jesus keeps looking for the faith that will let God’s people accept the gifts in Jesus’ hands. He sends the apostles out to find it.
From his stuck-in-the-ordinary hometown he sends them off, two by two, clearly and purposefully instructing them to leave behind everything that ties them to the ordinary: money, luggage, shelter, food.
All the resources they have on their journey will be gifts of God: the hospitality that feeds and shelters them, the ears they find willing to listen, and Jesus’ own power to heal and reveal placed in their own hands – all of these are miracles.
And we can see that they are miracles mostly – maybe only – when we leave all of the ordinary behind.
When Jesus finds too much ordinary in his hometown – all that ordinary blocking out our vulnerability to miracles – he sends his disciples out to keep looking for the faith. They aren’t sent to look for intellectual belief in the rightness of his teaching, but for the ability to receive God’s gifts as the miracles they are: for openness to wonder, and openness to letting God do what we’d feel more comfortable if we did for ourselves.
It works, too: They went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick, and cured them.
In other words, the apostles find the faith that Jesus is looking for, they find the openness to God’s unbelievable gifts that’s shown by the trail of miracles and healing and changed hearts in their wake.
It works in part because Jesus equips the apostles with the vulnerability that keeps them open to miracles, sending them out completely dependent on the kindness of strangers, but also because he reminds them what to do when people’s natural skepticism and a preference for the safety of the ordinary start to cling to them and weigh them down: Shake it off.
If any place will not receive you, won’t receive what God is offering; if anyone refuses to hear you and share the wonder, shake that dust off your feet.
Shake it off, when those around you want you to stay firmly in the ordinary.
Shake it off, when no one wants to be amazed with you.
Shake it off, when everyone else wants to accept miseries and injustices we can’t control as a part of daily life, instead of as an opportunity for God to act.
Shake it off, when no one around you is willing to see daily bread and shelter as the miracle they are, or a listening ear as a marvelous gift of God.
Shake it off, and keep looking for the faith that’s ready to receive the news and the gifts of God as miracles. Because it is out there.
It’s in here, too. In you and me, even though many of us have been familiar with Jesus since childhood, just like his hometown neighbors. Many of us have gotten comfortable with Jesus as ordinary in our lives, and gotten conditioned to miss the miracles because we’ve seen this all before, and the good news doesn’t seem all that new.
Even so, the faith that Jesus is looking for is here at home just as much as it’s on the road, we just have to shake off our own disbelief to set it free.
It’s not intellectual doubt that holds us back, but the comfort of not noticing, and not needing, miracles that keeps us from receiving the miracles God wants to give. So Jesus encourages us to shake off the pride or the shame or the social awkwardness or whatever it is that keeps us from longing for divine healing and revelation; shake it off so that we’re free to be filled with wonder and miracle and grace. Shake off the expectation that we’re here in life to do what we can with what we have, and become free to receive what God can do, in our own hometown neighborhoods, and in the world.
It’s unbelievable, sure.
But that’s what makes it God’s.
That’s what makes us God’s.