Thy Kin-dom Come, Anyway

Mark 6: 1-6

A Galilean born on the wrong side of the tracks, Jesus returns to hometown roots in Nazareth with a Kin-dom bringing agenda. With disciples by his side and a home court advantage, it appears at first glance that favor leans his way for the reception of good news incarnate. As the story goes, Jesus arrives on scene with his posse of followers, assuming authority in the synagogue. He begins teaching and performing miraculous works to which the community of his youth and early adulthood first responds to with astonishment: “What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!” they shout. But as the narrative continues, it becomes evident that the people’s lingering associations about him begin to overshadow the liberating power of this savior come home, who is left with the temptation to cease his work in the face of rejection’s sting.

Jesus returns home as the Son of God with divine intentions only to be met by the crowd’s quick estimation of him as somebody that they used to know. In reading Mark 6:1-6, I invite us to consider: How are we called to handle ridicule and rejection?

Congregational Response

  • Hurting people hurt people
  • Recognizing that we all suffer, which is not and excuse for harming others but may help us not take it so personally
  • We want to dish it right back sometimes
  • Christ stands in solidarity with the ridiculed and the rejected

Theological Reflection

In September of 1997, American writer and Harvard graduate, Dr. Kent Keith, attended a meeting of his Rotary Club. To begin the meeting, a member of the club felt that it was appropriate to acknowledge the recent passing of Mother Teresa and commemorate her life by reading a poem attributed to her. In preparation for hearing the words of Mother Teresa, Dr. Keith recalls bowing his head in contemplative reverence as the club member began reciting a poem entitled, “Anyway”:

“People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered,
If you do good, people will accuse you of
selfish, ulterior motives,
If you are successful,
you win false friends and true enemies,
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow,
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable,

What you spent years building may be
destroyed overnight,
People really need help
but may attack you if you help them,
Give the world the best you have
And you’ll get kicked in the teeth,

Such a powerful message fitting the life and legacy of this contemporary saint. Back to the Rotary Club, when the recitation ended, Dr. Keith’s confusion lingered for the words spoken strangely resembled (almost exactly) something that he wrote when he was a Sophomore at Harvard. As part a book on leadership published in 1968 by Harvard Student Agencies, Kent Keith’s contribution to the book outlined what he termed, “Paradoxical Commandments.” It was a series of 10 statements listing ways in which the world will try to hurt, take from, and dismiss us, but how we are called to love, do good, succeed, think big, build, help, and give anyway. This sentiment of carrying on with the good and the loving anyway serves as a refrain in response to cruelty and injustice, and to Dr. Keith’s surprise, he was hearing this refrain, hearing his own words recited back to him decades later under the assumed authorship of one of the world’s most beloved Christian humanitarians.

After the meeting, Dr. Keith asked the speaker where he found this supposed poem of Mother Teresa’s and was referred to a book written by a woman named Lucinda Vardey. Vardey had visited Mother Teresa’s children’s home in Calcutta, where she bore witness to these words written on the wall. She found them so moving that she decided to share them in the book she was writing under the innocent assumption that Mother Teresa had written them. Rather than being outraged and bitter that his work was being plagiarized, Dr. Keith recounts how astonished and inspired he was that his Paradoxical Commandments found their way on a wall on the other side of the world and in the heart of someone he so greatly admired.

Exemplifying his own approach to responding to adversity in his response to not being credited, I think it would be appropriate to add another commandment to the list: the world might not give you credit for what you create, CREATE ANYWAY. And create he did. Inspired by Mother Teresa’s adoption of these principles, Dr. Keith picked back up his Paradoxical Commandments, writing book after book on living a life of meaning led by love. For Dr. Keith, the fact that Mother Teresa felt these sentiments to be important enough to write on her wall was an encouraging affirmation of just how true these words ring regardless of context. From the halls of Harvard to the streets of Calcutta to a pulpit in Alabama, where Dr. Martin Luther King unrelatedly preached a similar message in one of his most famous sermons, Loving Your Enemies. He remarks:

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Dr. King speaks to the interrupting power of love to cease the cycle of reciprocal violence if only we can find the courage and strength to love anyway, to not let the hate of others dictate how we answer the call to love. So what does a Harvard PhD, a Catholic nun, and an Alabama preacher have in common? — they all follow the example of a man from Galilee.

When Jesus arrives on scene with the good news, the crowd’s response rapidly shifts from amazement, to skepticism, to insult, and, finally, in verse 3: rejection. The text says they “took offense at him.” As the story continues, we read that Jesus “could do no deed of power there.” In Matthew’s account, the Gospel writer pins the blame on the people’s unbelief, and the story ends there – seemingly suggesting a requirement of faith in God in order for God to work in the world. Mark’s Gospel mentions unbelief as well; however, it also includes an additional detail that begs our attention.

In verse 6, the text says, “Jesus could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” It is a seemingly minuscule act on a relative few that undoubtedly had an profound impact on their individual lives, which points to a very important conclusion. In response to skepticism, insult, and rejection, the people’s lack of faith did not keep Jesus from carrying out the divine imperative to meet the needs of those who required help. Jesus does eventually leave but not before leaving a little piece of the Kin-dom of God in his wake.

The world expects us to return hate with hate, rejection with rejection, condemnation with condemnation, and the wheel keeps spinning round and round. And it is completely understandable to want to give back what we receive, to make others hurt how they have hurt us, to throw in the towel when others have used it to smother us. That is one way to respond, and for a moment, it might feel satisfying as if there’s some balance back in the world or like it’s the only option. But in the end, all we’re left with is more hate, more rejection, more condemnation that will eventually find its way back to us again. And it all keeps spinning. But in the life of God among us, in the words of Dr. Keith, in the dream of Dr. King, and in the footsteps of Mother Teresa, we are invited on a different path where it is love that responds to hate, reception that responds to rejection, and grace that responds to condemnation.

This is not a command to simply get over it, to bypass the very real and valid upset that we feel in response to being hurt or wronged. It’s not an excuse for abuse or a disavowing of accountability. Rather, it is simply an invitation to not let the hate of others define the love you have for yourself nor dictate your capacity to experience the love that God has for us all. It’s about loving others, of course. But Jesus says we must love our neighbor as ourself, meaning the love we have for ourselves is meant to be a faithful model for the love we are called to share with others — a love that recognizes the hate in another as a fearful reflection of what they think of themselves not as a reflection of how we deserve to be treated. What you do unto others, especially the least of these, you do unto me, Jesus said; and I wonder if Jesus intended us to internalize this about ourselves as well. What we do unto others we do unto ourselves; the two are entwined. It leads me to think that perhaps Jesus still tended to suffering in the face of his own rejection because he loved himself enough to love others in their pain.

Let us not give in to the temptation to return fire with fire, for the world has enough flames. Instead, may we baptize fire with grace, paying attention to the needs of restoration and reconciliation, but doing so based upon the model of our own belovedness not the world’s expectation of malice.

In response to being hurt, Jesus heals and the Kin-dom nudges in. When the world tries to halt the Kin-dom from coming, we can let it be driven away or we can let the Kin-dom come anyway.