Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith. Mark 6:4-6
I’m amazed at the notion that Jesus was amazed…about anything, really. If he were just “fully man” and nothing more, then it wouldn’t be quite so amazing…but that he was also fully God makes me wonder about what, exactly, could so captivate him, so catch him off guard, as to “amaze” him. So here it is: “He was amazed at their lack of faith.”
As it turns out, amazing God isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Jesus goes back to his hometown, to the people who changed his diapers and whose kids played with him on the playground and who saw him working long hours in his dad’s carpenter shop…with hopes they might be willing to see his growth, his ministry, and his power and authority over everything in this world. He had an expectation that his hometown would not be so constrained by their preconceived notions of him, that they would have room in their hearts for a hometown boy who turns out to be the savior of the world. As those hopes were dashed and his disappointment set in, he was amazed that their hearts could be so closed to the possibilities.
I like studying the gospels and paying particular attention to various people’s responses to Jesus. In each case, we ask ourselves, “Do I ever respond that way?” “Could that ever be me?” In this case, I suppose it is true that this could be any of us. God could well be amazed by any of us for our lack of faith…for our not seeing him. Here’s why…
First, isn’t it a part of the human condition to “categorize” people…to “label” them so as to keep some order to our world. There is comfort in that. He is a good boy. She is a troublemaker. They are lunatics. She is an eccentric. He is gay. That group is dangerous. This group is honest. As long as we can categorize everyone in a nice, neat identity, our world has order…we can understand it…maybe even control it. And when someone tries to break the mold we’ve cast for them, our world becomes less controllable. It is why high school reunions are so awkward. It is why family holidays or weddings or funerals are so awkward. We have long-standing patterns of behavior and roles to play and we just do not want to see those roles change. For this reason, all of us are guilty of “categorizing” a fellow Christian in a way which causes us to miss seeing Jesus IN that person.
Second, we have all missed seeing Jesus on occasions because we did not know what we were looking for. Jesus’ hometown Jewish friends were not looking for a messiah who grew up with them and who worked as a carpenter. They were waiting for a military leader, a social activist, a charismatic rebel who would end all their social woes. Jesus was none of those things. Likewise, our own notions of how and when and through whom God should present himself surely cause us to miss him at times. We may be listening for him through the sermon (maybe), but how closely are we watching for him at the bus stop or the gas station? We may watch closely for him in the wise old statesman, but do we miss him in the child selling lemonade on the street corner?
Third, and this is the really bothersome one, we have all missed encounters with Jesus because none of us, NONE of us, know him as well as we should. At the end of his ministry, the apostle Paul would say, “I want to know Christ…”. The same is true for each of us. We strive to know him more and more, which means we all have some growing to do and none of us yet knows him fully. We miss recognizing him in others because we have not yet “learned” that part of him. This is bothersome because it requires us to have an open mind and an open heart and a willingness to meet him in unexpected ways and through unexpected people. It requires us to be willing to hear him through people with whom we disagree strongly, or who worship differently than we do (or who do not worship at all), or who live very differently than we do. And where we are not so willing, where our faith is too small, we amaze God.
I do not know what your mental picture is of God being amazed at your lack of faith…it’s probably not even healthy to form such a mental picture of God. But still, it is something we want to avoid, right? None of us want to even imagine God being amazed by our lack of faith. All of us want to do better than that. So won’t you join me in this simple prayer…
Grow our faith, Lord. Whatever it takes. Grow our faith.