Good Trouble

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Ordinary Time 14
July 4, 2021
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: Christians face rejection when they work for justice on behalf of the powerless. But Jesus found, in his hometown, that his own words and work caused offense.

John Lewis was born the third of 10 children in an Alabama sharecropping family. As a young man, he joined the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a leader in the Civil Rights movement. Then he was elected to Congress and represented a district in Georgia from 1987 until his death last year, a period of public service that is worth celebrating on Independence Day. Although not everyone agreed with his politics, he was admired for being stubbornly hopeful. Lewis loved America, stood up for what he believed in, and challenged people to be involved in what he called "good trouble."

One of his core convictions was nonviolence. Reflecting on the Civil Rights protests of the 1960s, he said, "When we were beaten, arrested and taken to jail, we never struck back. We said, If you're going to beat us, in effect, let it be in the daylight. So people can see what is happening. And we used our bodies as witness against segregation and racial discrimination. The philosophy of nonviolence became a way of life. ... So we filled the city jails in Georgia, in Tennessee and all around the South. And people around the country didn't like what they saw, seeing these young, well-dressed black students being arrested and taken to jail. ... We changed the attitude of hundreds of thousands of people."1

Missing the God connection

Jesus also made "good trouble" when he began to teach in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. He took a stand for what he believed in and received resistance and rejection from many people. They may have resented him for upsetting the status quo and appearing to elevate himself - after all, he was an ordinary carpenter from a non-traditional family. In this particular passage, he is described as "the son of Mary" rather than the son of Joseph, which would be the traditional formulation. Think of the family names we use today that follow this pattern, such as Johnson and Peterson. Rarely, if ever, do you run into the name Marison or Marthason.

Many who heard Jesus teaching in Nazareth were astounded. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!" Mark tells us that "they took offense at him." New Testament scholar John Painter notes that the original Greek says that they were "scandalized" by him - it seems that because he was a local boy, the people of his hometown took offense and stumbled at the authority implied by his teaching and miracles.2 They allowed their preconceptions and opinions of him to get in the way of seeing who he truly was.

But Jesus did not allow this rejection to prevent him from taking a stand for what he believed in. He knew full well that prophets "are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." But at the same time, he felt disappointed by this rejection, and Mark tells us that he was "amazed at their unbelief." According to professor of religion Sharyn Dowd, Jesus was amazed that they did not have faith "in the saving power of God as manifested in the ministry of Jesus." The people recognized that Jesus had power, but that recognition was not faith. Faith would be the belief that God was behind what Jesus was doing in the world.3

Although the people of Nazareth saw that Jesus was doing miraculous things with extraordinary wisdom, they did not recognize God as the source of Jesus' power and wisdom. Nor did they recognize the coming of the kingdom of God in the stands he was taking. Activist Ched Myers observes, "Without their cooperative faith (6:6) - that is to say, their openness to a new order - Jesus can accomplish none of the 'mighty works' (6:5, oudemian dunamin ) that have aroused the hometown crowd's suspicion."4 Dowd compares the people of Nazareth to the seed that fell beside the path - they never took root. Jesus' combination of human ordinariness and divine power made no sense to them.5 They missed the God connection.

Taking a stand

Christians are going to face resistance when they stand up for what they believe in, sometimes from the family members and friends closest to them. Being a disciple of Christ does not always lead to love and admiration - it can sometimes result in rejection. So, what should we expect as we try to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world? In light of the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth and the mission of the Twelve that comes next in the text, followers of Christ need to prepare themselves for "good trouble."

John Lewis devoted his life to the pursuit of social justice, and he grounded his activism in the mission and ministry of Jesus. He knew that Jesus launched his ministry at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke "to bring good news to the poor."6 Then, in Matthew, at the end of his ministry, Jesus denounced the Pharisees who neglected "justice and mercy and faith."7 This focus on social justice can be found in the Old Testament as well, such as when God commands us through the prophet Isaiah to "seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow."8 On the topic of justice, God's word is very clear.

Unfortunately, a stand for justice can lead to resistance and rejection. Turn on the television, and you hear commentators saying that "social justice" and "economic justice" are code words for socialism. In local congregations, pastors are accused of being "too political" when they take action on social issues such as immigration, housing or health care. Taking a stand can be divisive when people don't see the God connection.

In his book Generous Justice , pastor Tim Keller says that it is striking to see how often God is introduced as the defender of people in vulnerable groups. When people ask him, "How do you want to be introduced?" he usually suggests they say, "This is Tim Keller, minister at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City." That is the main thing that he spends his time doing in public life. Keller wants us to realize, then, how significant it is that the biblical writers introduce God as "Father of orphans and protector of widows."9 This is one of the main things God does in the world, says Keller. "He identifies with the powerless, he takes up their cause."10

Strength in numbers

So, how can we follow God in seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan and pleading for the widow? How can we respond to the call of Jesus to bring good news to the poor, as well as justice and mercy and faith? More than anything else, it is important that we work on these issues together. Jesus himself knew this, which is why he left Nazareth and immediately "called the twelve and began to send them out two by two."11 There is strength in numbers.

The quest for social justice is most successful when Christians join forces with other people of faith. In Northern Virginia, an interfaith organization called VOICE - Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement - is working to preserve affordable housing, increase dental care for the poor and help immigrants. Made up of clergy and laypeople from dozens of congregations, this multifaith group speaks with one voice to political leaders while advocating for the homeless and the working poor.12

In its first year, VOICE secured additional public funding for a free dental clinic, knowing that rotting teeth can push people out of the job market and into the emergency room. Such social action is successful because it is supported by a broad range of people who want the poor to get their teeth fixed and do well at work. It is also the kind of effort that is faithful to the God who identifies with the powerless and takes up their cause.

Remaining faithful

Taking a stand for the needy can get a Christian in trouble, but it can be good trouble. And it isn't always wildly successful, as Jesus discovered in Nazareth when "he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them." Sometimes a few healings are all that can be done. Or a few more dollars for a free dental clinic.

But more important than success is faithfulness. We show that we are followers of Jesus when we take a stand for nonviolence. We strengthen our faith when we see the God connection in everything that Jesus did. We put our faith into action when we try to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. And we express our faith when we follow God in identifying with the powerless and taking up their cause. As disciples of Christ, we can work together in ways that bring good news to the poor, as well as justice and mercy and faith. We may get ourselves in trouble, but it will be God's trouble.


  1. Zak Cheney-Rice, "The Long View: John Lewis, congressman and civil-rights legend, will never lose hope," Intelligencer , July 18, 2020,
  2. John Painter, Mark's Gospel: Worlds in conflict (New York: Routledge, 1997), 96.
  3. Sharyn Dowd, Reading Mark: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Second Gospel (Macon, Georgia: Smith & Helwys Publishing, 2000), 60.
  4. Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1988), 212.
  5. Dowd, 60.
  6. Luke 4:18.
  7. Matthew 23:23.
  8. Isaiah 1:17.
  9. Psalm 68:4-5.
  10. Timothy Keller, Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just (New York: Penguin Books, 2012), 6.
  11. Mark 6:7.
  12. Henry G. Brinton, "Don't say 'social justice,'" USA TODAY , April 5, 2010, 13A,