"Who Pulled the Plug? The Cancelling Power of Contempt"
Sept.17, 2006 Mark 6:1-6
The tragedy at Montreal's Dawson College this past Wednesday took us all by surprise. 25-year-old Kimveer Gill killed one person and injured 19 others, causing chaos as many of the province's largest English-speaking school's 10,000 students ran for their lives. He then killed himself after being shot by provincial police. One eyewitness on the radio who was standing outside the school when Gill arrived described him as wearing a long black coat and having a (quote) "retarded haircut" (I later heard it was Mohawk style).
The news reports that Gill left behind an online diary at vampirefreaks.com, a website devoted to Goth culture. He refers to himself as the "angel of death"; in photos, he wears a long black trench coat, and is carrying a semi-automatic rifle.
The caption reads, "Ready for Action." Gill expressed the following opinions: "Work sucks … School sucks … Life sucks … What else can I say?...Metal and Goth kick [a-]. Life is like a video game, you gotta die sometime."
Now, our initial reaction may be to shake our heads and dismiss him - and other goths - as "sick". They don't fit our norms or expectations. Unwittingly, though, in rejecting them, we push them to the edge even further, like the girl who described his haircut as "retarded". Pushing, pushing, pushing...this drives those who feel rejected even further from society, until they (in this case) start pulling a trigger.
Prejudice is deadly. Showing contempt for others because of their appearance, the way they dress or wear their hair or pierce themselves, can have disastrous consequences. In our reading from Mark we find Jesus Himself becomes the brunt of prejudice, misunderstanding, and rejection - with negative consequences for his home community.
The section between Jesus' teaching in Mark 4 and the beginning of chapter 6 features four miracle stories that portray Jesus as the wonder-working Son of God. Before chapter 4 He healed many people and got them better; but leading up to chapter 6, He's Mr.Impossible, repeatedly doing the un-do-able. As we saw last week, He calmed the wind and the waves during a furious squall that would have sunk the disciples' boat (4:39). At the beginning of chapter 5 he delivers a man possessed by so many evil spirits that their name is "Legion". This guy's an impossible case; 5:3 says, "No one could bind him any more, not even with a chain."
Then in 5:26ff a woman with an 18-year-long bleeding problem touches his cloak and his healed. Mark tells us "She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse." Medically speaking, she too is an impossible case.
But the clincher is the raising back to life of Jairus' daughter. En route to their home, men come to report(v35), "Your daughter is dead; why bother the teacher any more?" It's a 'done deal'; impossible to bring the dead back to life. But again Jesus shows He's master of the impossible; soon she's up and walking around again, much to the surprise of the professional mourners. First time they'd ever lost a job that way!
Then in chapter 6 Jesus arrives at his hometown, Nazareth. Surely they had heard the news of His miracles from the surrounding area. He taught in the local synagogue on the Sabbath, and people were amazed at His wisdom and the stories they'd heard of His miracles. They ask the right question: "Where did this man get these things?" But instead of leaving it open - instead of allowing for the possibility that God might be doing something here - they respond too quickly, jumping to conclusions. They meet the question with a ready-made answer sprung from their own biases. They annswer the right question with the wrong attitude. They judge based on outward factors, v3: "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?" They look at the Clark Kent and miss the Superman.
"Isn't this the carpenter?" Justin later wrote that Jesus had made plows and yokes. The word for 'carpenter' could also be used of a mason or tradesman in general; sort of a 'handyman' who goes from job to job. The emphasis then is in contrast to the schooled and trained religious professionals. "He has no papers!" You've got to remember that in former cultures, 'station' in life was closely related to status. David McKenna comments, "On the scale of honour, a handyman stood just above the village idiot."
The townsfolk rhyme off the names of Jesus' brothers and sisters, as if to imply Jesus is just as ordinary as His kinsmen. (The New Testament knows nothing about the supposed perpetual virginity of Mary.) Perhaps there's even an unspoken slur hinting immorality in connection with the premarital conception.
Jesus just doesn't fit the preconceived notions of the people of Nazareth in regard to Messiahship. They know what they're looking for and He's certainly not it. V4, "Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honour."" Familiarity breeds contempt. In Luke's account (4:24), Jesus also notes Elijah and Elisha were received better by people in Sidon and Syria than some in their homeland. The people of Nazareth seem to have been suggesting (or expecting) Jesus to do the miracles in His hometown that they'd heard He'd done in Capernaum and other places. They felt entitled, insisting that God prove Himself on their terms, making Him fit in their box. "We have a right to certain expectations, you know."
Their bigotry became their blindness. End of v3, "And they took offense at Him." Really the text is stronger than that: the Greek word is 'scandalized', they stumbled over Him, REJECTED Him. They dismissed Him, wrote Him off. Peter and Paul writing later both refer back to the Messianic Psalm 118(22), "'A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.' They stumble because they disobey the message..." (Rom 9:32f; 1Peter 2:8) Hardened disobedient resistant hearts failed to see the long-awaited Christ standing right in front of them.
Prejudice is dangerous. A lexicon describes "take offense" this way: "to see in another what I disapprove of and what hinders one from acknowledging his authority; to cause one to judge unfavourably or unjustly of another." Here was Mr. Impossible, the Almighty Incarnate - but they would have none of it. Because they didn't perceive Jesus' authority, they derived no benefit. Mark notes in v5, "He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And He was amazed at their lack of faith." Their contempt completely cancelled any positive effect His power might have wrought in their midst. It was their prejudice that pulled the plug.
The more religious we are - regular church attender, read our Bible daily, even a member on several church committees - the more danger there is of us feeling we're so "familiar" with God that we take Him for granted, even expect Him to live up to our terms. As if He 'owes' us. Are our expectations of the Lord based on our assumptions - or His sovereign freedom? Is our relationship one of whole-hearted love, or begrudging duty? Beware of holding God in contempt, especially if He doesn't "come through for you" in a way you'd hoped.
By contrast, faith and respect and reverence for God allows Him total freedom to define His terms, His covenant with us mortal humans. Compare the sniff and sneer of the people of Nazareth with the terrified awe the disciples showed toward Jesus when He stilled the storm. Prejudice and contempt make us stand-offish; truly believing, however, leads us to be completely yielded to God's sovereignty. In faith, we allow God space for Him to be and act however He pleases, uncaged by our presumption.
Avoiding prejudice means we'll dig a little deeper rather than jumping to conclusions based on superficial factors like appearance or first impressions. To people in Huron County, the goth subculture is probably as foreign as that of the aborigines in the Australian outback. An article online in Wikipedia.org provides at least an informed introduction. It notes: "Like many other music-based subcultures, the goth subculture has faced its share of criticism and intolerance. Such intolerance ranges from looks of disgust to assaults. The gothic preoccupation with themes of death and the macabre has occasionally raised public concerns regarding the well-being of goths, and the addition of new members to the subculture has stirred fears of cultic indoctrination. Such conceptions are often reinforced by the popular media, as exemplified by the fallout of the Columbine High School massacre, which was carried out by two students inaccurately linked to the goth subculture because of their involvement with the Trenchcoat Mafia and affinity for industrial rock. This misreporting of the massacre caused a widespread public backlash against the North American goth scene; however, investigators of the incident later denied that any such link between the students and the goth subculture had in fact existed." How quickly we jump to our conclusions!
In the Montreal case, however, we have a clear link between Mr Gill and goth. As we saw earlier, the website on which he posted is devoted to goth culture, and Gill himself stated, "Metal and Goth kick [a-]." What so damaged this individual as to lead him on a killing rampage?
A news report noted Kampveer Gill was picked on by others, being the only person of south Asian origin in his school. His online diary talks about bullying, how sometimes teachers and principals are complicit because they look the other way. The prejudice of others drove him to the edge of his immediate society. The Wikipedia article comments: "Many who are drawn to the [goth] culture have already failed to conform to the norms of existing society, and for its participants the gothic subculture provides an important way of experiencing a sense of community and validation not found in the outside world. Hodkinson shows how inside the gothic subculture status can be gained via enthusiastic participation and creativity...He suggests that the self-conscious artificiality of a subculture is a valid alternative choice in a post-modern world, compared to submitting to the invisible manipulations of popular consumerism and the mass media."
Gill's parents and neighbours were very surprised that he would commit such a crime. There was a whole 'nother side to him from which people's assumptions and prejudices blinded them. Somehow the church and potential friends missed an opportunity to reach out and understand a lonely person before it was too late, and he gave in to the enemy's tactics - death and violence.
Jumping to conclusions and dismissing people, writing them off, can have bad consequences. That once caused an automobile salesman in the city of Bodoe, Norway, to a sixteen-car sale. Here's how: A young man in a sweater, overalls, and rubber boots entered a car dealership in Bodoe and told the salesman: "I plan on buying sixteen cars, if you have something I like." The salesman said, "I don't have time for jokes - buzz off." The man did buzz off, right across the street to another dealership, where he was taken seriously. The man in overalls really wanted sixteen cars and paid in cash - 1,038,961 Norwegian kroner ($160,000). He belonged to a sixteen-man crew of a Norwegian trawler that caught record quantities of herring last season, resulting in large bonuses paid to each fisherman. They decided they wanted to buy new cars with part of their windfall and decided to buy all sixteen at once in order to get the best possible discount. This first salesman let a big sale slip through his fingers!
Prejudice can also derail reception of the Gospel. Mohandas Gandhi, father of his country India, says in his autobiography that in his student days he was truly interested in the Bible. Deeply touched by reading the Gospels, he seriously considered becoming a convert, since Christianity seemed to offer the real solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India. One Sunday, he went to a nearby church to attend services. He decided to see the minister and ask for instruction in the way of salvation and enlightenment on other doctrines. But when he entered the sanctuary, the ushers refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go and worship with his own people. Gandhi left and never came back. He said to himself, "If Christians have caste differences also, I might as well remain a Hindu."
May Christ's love and grace drive prejudice from our hearts, lift the blinders from our eyes, help us recognize His voice, and give us courage to approach hurting individuals with concern rather than contempt. Let's pray.