The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.



Jesus’ Call for Authentic Ministry.

by Neal D. Presa

Gospel Reading: Mark 6:1-13

For Sunday, July 8, Year B − Ordinary 14

Preachers, you know what I’m talking about when I say how different it is when we gather with extended family for get-togethers and how we are regarded by two groups:

  1. There’s the one side of family that tip-toes around you, not really sure what to make of us preacher types who appear to be closer to God, who are called upon to say the meal prayers, who can’t seem to do no wrong, who might even hear their problems and exorcise a couple of unclean spirits.
  2. Then there’s the other side, the much larger group, who dismisses the years spent at seminary, who could care less if you have the M.Div, the Ph.D, whatever. This is the group that knows you as being the little bratty kid who ran with them around the old neighborhood and got into trouble.

This group knows the preacher under the clerical garb.

Under the Garb

These two kinds of existences are expressed in the way the NRSV divides up this Gospel. The first six verses locate Jesus in Nazareth—his message being rejected, his authority as prophet dismissed.

Why? The aunts, uncles, and siblings know him as the little boy who got circumcised in the synagogue and who left his parents on a wild-goose chase, only to locate him hours later in the synagogue hanging out with the local elders.

But, the next seven verses have him sending out the Twelve with special instructions on how they are to conduct themselves on their mission adventures and how to deal with households that reject them.

Letting it Go

We get the point: we’re called to let go of anything (or anyone) that might be a hindrance; that might keep workers of the Gospel from fully and faithfully discharging their duties.

The Harper Collins Study Bible notes that ancient Cynic preachers carried bread and a beggar’s bag; note, too, that Matthew (10:10) and Luke’s (9:3) account of Jesus’ injunction on this score prohibited the Twelve from donning even staff and sandals.

“Letting go and letting God” exhortations are Bunyan-esque as Christian leaves his wife Christiana and their family to set off on the journey; or even the iconic Star Wars figure, Yoda, who continually counsels the hard-headed Anakin Skywalker to rid himself of attachments. Such will lead to fear of loss, which leads to sadness, which leads to anger, which leads to the Dark Side.

Rejection or Authenticity?

The rapid-fire succession of the Markan Gospel’s chronicling of Jesus’ ministry from home to the mission field brings the point: Jesus is about the ministry, proclaiming the Good News to as many people as possible, demonstrating the power of God to heal along the way. Such a calling becomes the Twelve’s calling. Then, are they, and we, by implication, to shake off the dust off of our feet if family, as with foe, reject us and the Gospel which we bring?

Rejection can cut both ways. Our ministerial detachment can seem like rejection to others, even those closest to us. But it seems, rather, that Jesus is calling us back to a bare-bones authenticity, a nakedness, akin to what our family knows of us.

Leave behind any signs of official authority, the fancy-shmancy degrees and theological lingo, the garb, the sandals.

The Hardest Question

What/Who threatens ours and the Church’s full-fledged, die-hard commitment to be nakedly authentic?

Neal Presa is pastor of Middlesex Presbyterian Church in Middlesex, New Jersey, and a member of the residential faculty of New Brunswick Theological Seminary in the capacity of Affiliated Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship. Neal is a candidate for Moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He and his wife have two sons, and have traveled to six continents, including the Caribbean. He loves black coffee, running, Banana Republic suits, and NPR’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross.” He dabbles in the world of liturgical and ecumenical theology through writings, meetings, and teaching. Visit


  1. Lia says:

    I am not sure that my family rejects the minister me because of the snotty nosed brattiness me. I think it’s more about my clinging to my old patterns, not acting in a loving way towards them.

    But it’s also about my theological education taking me further away from their kind of Christianity. My theological education has changed my political views and their views no longer resonate with me.

    Perfect example: I was called on to pray for Thanksgiving a few years ago. I thanked God for the blessings in our lives, for our families, for our food, and asked God to bless us to serve God better. Then I Amen-ed. My grandfather then jumped in to ask God to bless the troops and to help us win the war we were in. They haven’t called on me to pray again.

How do you read?