“The Wow Factor”
You know, I'm not a math guy, I'm a word guy. I like to keep up with language, and observe how it changes and mutates. Not because I'm cool at all, but I think language is fun, and I like using new expressions. One newer expression you might have heard or used is when something is said to have a “wow factor”. It's a very descriptive way of saying it – that something is astonishing or amazing, even unbelievable.
The Grand Canyon has a wow-factor. A gourmet meal might have a wow-factor. An amazing basketball shot from half-court at the buzzer – there's a wow-factor. But the wow-factors in the Bible are way more wow-ish.
Today's reading from Mark has a couple of wow-factor moments. Jesus goes back to his home town, Nazareth. And with Jesus, there comes a wow-factor. He was doing amazing things. Healing, casting out demons. Astonishing, so far out of the box... and even moreso, he was teaching like no one else, with a wisdom and authority that brought astonishment to his hearers – another wow-factor. But that's when things turn....
They did not react the way you'd expect. They did not greet him joyfully, and turn to him in faith. They didn't even show him respect. Those people from the Nazareth synagogue were astonished by Jesus, but in a very different way. Their reaction: to take offense.
“Who does this guy think he is? Come in here, doing all these miracles, teaching all these things.... where does he get all this? He's no better than we are – we know his family, he grew up right here. We know what they whisper about how Mary was already pregnant before Jospeh married her. Sure, he's always been a little different, but he's one of us, and no one special. Who does he think he is, anyway?”
They are indignant. No doubt because Jesus was clearly calling sinners to repentance, like he so often did. No doubt these old “friends and neighbors” of his didn't take kindly to him calling them out for their sin. Jesus – along with his miracles, preached a message of repentance. He was calling them to repent!
Now, no one likes it, really, to have our sins pointed out. People often take offense at that. They might react with excuses or rationalization. They might try to deflect the blame to another “Hey it was the woman You gave me – hey it was that nasty serpent”. They might try to take the spotlight off of their own sins and say look at so-and-so who does the same thing, only worse. Or they may try to turn it all back on the accuser. “You're no angel, either, you know. What about YOUR sins, you hypocrite. Who are you to judge? Who do you think you are?”
Indignance. But the law offends. In fact, it kills. And it kills us, too. What really astonishes me is when a sinner is called to repentance – and turns from his sin! Like David, whom Nathan confronted, “You are the man! You slept with Bathsheba. You killed Uriah. You deserve to die by your own words of judgment!” But David responds, not in anger or blame or deflection or indignance. He repents. He confesses. “I have sinned” he humbly speaks. This is the wow-factor of a humble faith. This is not normal for a sinful human. It is a gift of the Spirit. When a sinner repents, we ought to say, “wow”! And rejoice with the angels in heaven.
But that's not the only astonishment in our reading. The next wow-factor is even more astonishing – because now it is Jesus who is amazed. He “marveled because of their unbelief”. I, for one, find it pretty amazing that even Jesus is amazed.
But it is amazing that people would reject what Jesus brings. Yes, he must have showed them their sin. But surely he also held out the promise, the invitation to come to him for mercy. Like he offered living water to the woman at the well. Like he offered new birth by water and spirit to Nicodemus. Like he called his own disciples, and prostitutes and tax collectors to trust in him and follow him. Like he had compassion on so many other sinners in their weaknesses and frailties and sins.
And yet, amazingly, some would reject such a gift. Some would, and some do, even today, turn a blind eye to his salvation, and a deaf ear to his word. I'm sure Jesus is still amazed at the lack of belief in our world. At the growing godlessness of a nation too wrapped up in everything but Christ. At the number of Christians who fall away and neglect the Sabbath day. At the bibles dusty from lack of use. At the churches that sit empty, while the bars and sports stadiums expand and multiply. This world is a mess. Sin, death, and the devil are having a field day. It's really rather amazing.
Now maybe you are, like I am at times, a bit jaded by all this. In a nation which permits the slaughter of the unborn, which invents and lauds same-sex marriage and undermines the marriage that God created, where school shootings seem to happen more and more, where poverty persists and diseases continue to wreak havoc. A world where people seem to invent new ways of sinning. Is anything surprising anymore? Is anything shocking? Maybe we ought not be so desensitized to the evil around us. Maybe we ought to continue reacting in shock to the brokenness of the world and the wickedness of our neighbors, and of ourselves. We were created good, even very good. But we seem to become every more evil. Does it shock you? Should it?
But here's some more wow-factor for ya. Look at the lengths to which Jesus will go to bring his salvation. Not just being rejected by his hometown synagogue, but much more. He will go to the cross. He willingly, of his own accord, lays down his life. He drinks the cup of God's wrath – for sinners – for all sins of all times – wow – even your sins. And God turns his back on Jesus. Wow. How does that even happen? And then, wonder of all, God, in the person of Jesus Christ, dies. The creator dies for the creature. He dies for you. What should wow you about that is his great love, that would go so far to save you, to forgive you.
We are wow'ed by a hero who lays down his life to save another. We award medals and bestow honors, we write songs about such heroes. Seldom will someone lay down his life for another, but maybe for a “good man” someone would bother. But wonder at this – Jesus did this for us when we were still enemies of God. Greater love has no one than he, for us.
Pile on some more wow-factor with the resurrection. And the Ascension. And the promise of our own resurrection, and our own joyful life with God forever. Wow. Think of what's in store for us, and be truly amazed.
Yes, with Jesus, there's constant amazement. And while some of it is unbelief, some of it is faith. While many will reject him, thanks be to God that by the power of the Spirit, we believers receive his amazing gifts with wonder.
There are many amazing things about this faith we have received. How can God be three and one? How can Jesus be God and Man? How can we be sinners, and yet saints? How can water do such great things in Baptism? How can Jesus' body and blood be truly here in the meal for each of us? And how can he forgive even sinners like me? Who is this guy?
We know, from the word, by the Spirit, that this wisdom comes from his Father in heaven. For he is the only-begotten son. And through him, all our offenses before God are nullified. By his cross, he does amazing things. And in his gifts, we are constantly wowed.
And it's also worth nothing the last section of our reading, where Jesus sends out the 12. Who are they, of all people, but a rag tag band of fishermen and ne'er do-wells? Amazing, astonishing that he should give them authority to preach and do miracles in his name. But he does much the same today, as he sends pastors to preach and administer the sacraments in his name, and as he sends all of us in our vocations to bear his name as witnesses to the world – witnesses of the amazing, wonderful, astonishing, marvelous things we have seen and heard and received, from Jesus Christ our Lord. Wow. He calls us, but he also sends us. Just, wow.
When it comes to Jesus, our words fail. But the Gospel never does. Even if some reject it, the wow-factor of his love and mercy remain. Thanks be to God for all of this, in Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.