Sunday Note: The Gospel According to Moana

Text: Mark 6:1-13

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

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.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.



Yesterday, I watched Moana again. I have watched Moana more times than I can count. I now know every word to every song, a significant amount of the dialogue, and exactly when Junia (my 3 year old daughter) will need her hand held when the "lava monster" appears (she doesn't 100% get the movie). Luckily, my daughter's two favorite movies-- Moana and Coco-- are really great. It's not a terrible task to watch them again and again while drawing pictures and eating cereal on Saturday mornings. 

But yesterday, as I watched Moana, I had this story of Jesus offending those in his hometown in the back of my mind, "A prophet is not without honor," he says, "except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home." The tension created in Moana is a classic hero's journey-- the journey of leaving home to pursue an often misunderstood greater calling. And in many stories of the hero's journey, the misunderstanding of those back home is in part due to the hero seeming unqualified and not up for the task. The other part of the misunderstanding is a disbelief that anything could be worth pursuing outside of the hero's home.

Moana leaves her island in search of Maui to return the heart of Te Fiti and stop the spreading darkness (I won't give spoilers as to how this all shakes out). But her people do not go beyond the reef that encircles their island. Her father, the chief, has created this blanket rule out of his fear for the safety of those on the island. But Moana, from the time she is young, wants to explore further out in the sea.

The tension builds on the island as we watch Moana grow and wrestle with external expectations vs her desires in the first act of the movie, but the story doesn't really start until she leaves her home.

This likely goes without saying, but Jesus and Moana are not exactly alike. However, Jesus deals with this tension as he teaches in his hometown of Nazareth. The people of his town ask, "Where did this man get these things? What's the wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?" And it seems at first as if the people are just amazed...amazed of what Jesus, who they have known or known of from a young age, has become in his adulthood. Amazed at his wisdom and his teachings. Amazed at his stories of his healing. But the questions take a turn from wonder and amazement...

Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?

And they took offense at him.

Jesus was the son of a carpenter. Jesus was born and raised under oppressive conditions in a town that was impoverished and viewed as a place where only the lowest of the low lived, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip is asked by Nathaniel when he hears about Jesus. And Jesus was not just born in a place where people were assumed to not amount to much-- he was born out of wedlock in this place. "Isn't this Mary's son?" is a loaded judgment, not an honest question. This is not Joseph's son, a standard way to ask in a patriarchal society-- he is Mary's, born a bastard child.

The people of Nazareth had internalized the common narrative about Nazareth. And what is more offensive than a man, who is not the best a group has to offer, but one of the most embarrassing, walking around teaching and acting as if he is a prophet-- a person chosen by God to speak authoritatively to God's people. Even if his words wise and he is healing people and he is speaking with authority, he cannot be called to something greater-- nothing good comes from Nazareth, especially not Mary's son.

Only a few chapters earlier in Mark's telling of the Gospel, Jesus' family went to try to take him home because they thought he was out of his mind. Crowds were listening to him, and he was traveling from town to town claiming that the Kingdom of God was near, calling disciples to follow him as if he was a trained rabbi, performing healings, and casting out demons. His family feared he had lost it. Who did Jesus think he was to do these things?

Jesus knew he was the Son of God. Jesus knew his purpose was to bring about and proclaim the presence of God's Kingdom. Jesus knew he was beloved by God, sent as the Messiah to the people who God loved and would save from their sin.

God did not choose to be present in the flesh to humanity by being born into a position of power, by gaining the proper permission and credentials to teach, or by playing by the rules of respectability-- God choose to be present in the flesh to humanity through Jesus, a child conceived out of wedlock to parents who would flee to Egypt for their safety then return to the impoverished, oppressed, looked-down-upon region of Nazareth. 

There are several points in Moana when she is questioned (or questions herself) on her worthiness for the task to which she has been called. She is a young woman "self taught" in sailing, she grew up in a place that did not allow her to explore past the Maui angrily says at one point, "We're here because the ocean told you, you're special and you believe it."

But the unqualified, the looked down upon, the dishonored are exactly the ones that God has chosen to work through, and ultimately to be born into as human being, Jesus of Nazareth.

There are two questions this story forces us to confront:

Can we listen and learn and be healed by those to whom we take offense? Can we hear those who are not of the right background, who do not speak in a way that we like, those whose very presence challenges the way we live and identify?

And do we have the courage to leave behind the expectations placed upon us when God calls us out? Do we have the courage to leave the comforts of our homes-- be it our theological, political, cultural, geographical, economic, racial comfort zones-- to journey with God? Do we have the courage to return changed to our people and risk rejection?