Otherness to Outsider

Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house."

Mark 6:1-13

July 2, 2021, Words By: Jenna Smith, Image By: Ryan Loughlin

Made Flesh

Nul n’est prophète dans son pays” is one of my favourite French Idioms. Inspired by the words of Jesus in this passage, with a poetic twist, it literally translates, “none is prophet in their own land.” We use this saying a lot in Quebec. As a people who are a cultural and linguistic minority, Quebec’s small audiences and modest funds incite our greatest artists and thinkers to go abroad and create their best and biggest work in another country. They may be beloved in their homeland, but their voice — at times their prophetic voice — is often heard loudest elsewhere before it is heard at home.  

This week’s Gospel reading is not a simple tale of an artist spreading their wings in the great world beyond. It’s a story of a prophetic voice being refused by those who, at first glance, should have been its most receptive audience. Jesus’ words allude to an intuitively felt truth: oftentimes, the familiarity of a voice inspires a nonchalant, or worse, irritated attitude in listeners. It is an enigmatic dynamic, but in this story, Jesus’ words, his work, and his very person are rejected — not merely dismissed —  by his own people: neighbors, family members, acquaintances. 

In fact, the two descriptives used by Mark to describe the state of mind of Jesus’ countrymen are “astounded” and “took offense.” This was no mere situation of indifference. This was a story of reactionism, resulting in Jesus being othered by his own, to a point where the effectiveness of his ministry was hindered: “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.”

Being othered by one’s own. Almost all of us have experienced this phenomenon to some extent. For example, when you voice a conviction, take an action or state a truth that is promptly rejected by your community, whether they’re your friends or family, church or denomination, or even your fellow citizens.

There is a unique pain associated with this brand of dismissal, akin to the sting of rejection but accompanied by shock and disbelief (“I thought of all people they would understand!”). I wonder if this is why Mark points out that Jesus was amazed at their disbelief, one of the only two times in the Gospels that this word is used to describe Jesus’ state of mind (the other one being an entirely different context, when Jesus was amazed at the roman Centurion’s faith in Luke 7:9). 

The othering of Jesus is followed by his act to send out the disciples to villages beyond his hometown. There is an invitation that he extends to the twelve, that is, to be the outsider. To be honest, his missional call here clashes with my personal instinctive preference for longevity, development, and incarnational missiology. 

But the invitation to become the outsider — one who is not rooted in possessions, claims, or status in the village the disciple is ministering to — is intriguing. After all, without these, the disciples had no earthly power to use in the name of Christ. They could not barter repentance, or buy membership, or impose faithfulness. As modest guests, these outsiders would have but one thing to offer — Christ’s prophetic voice and the healing power of his person. 
Sometimes it takes an outsider for truths to be heard.  

The transition from Otherness to Outsider demonstrates an agency allotted to Jesus and his disciples that many Others and Outsiders do not have. The racialized, the refuggeed, the widowed — most of the time, they cannot “just move on.” 

While vulnerability was freely chosen by the disciples in their mission, much of the time the vulnerable among us are shackled to their status and material insecurity.  Are we, the villagers and homesteaders, paying attention to the Others and Outsiders? As their stories and experiences are being voiced more and more, will our ears be receptive or dismissive? 

Lord have mercy if we have obliged the carriers of your truth to shake off the dust from their sandals and quit town on us. 

Dwelling Among Us

There is a relationship between Other, Outsider and the prophetic, healing message of Christ. To those of us devoted to this message, this relationship calls upon us on so many levels. How am I being invited to be the outsider? What moral codes will I adopt if I am so? Is the messenger of truth being Othered and what is my role in this?

About The Author

Jenna Smith