Two numbers have stuck with me from my time working in food service: three and eight.
Three, I remember learning, was the average number of people a customer would tell about a great first experience in a restaurant. The meal was perfect, exactly what they ordered, prepared exactly how they wanted. The service was excellent, present precisely when wanted, and otherwise invisible. The music, or other ambient noise was at just the right level, loud enough to mask the conversations of nearby tables, but quiet enough that it did not disrupt conversation. Everything was wonderful. Those customers are likely to tell three people about what a great time they had and encourage them to go visit this new restaurant.
If, on the other hand, a customer has a bad experience, not necessarily a terrible experience, we do not need everything to go wrong, just a few things, that customer is likely to tell eight people to stay away.
In food service, at least, but I suspect also in the rest of the hospitality and retail industry, a bad first visit is measurably more harmful than a good first visit is helpful. It is incredibly difficult to change a bad first impression, in part, because many of us are not inclined to give a business, or even a person, the opportunity.
I think most of us intuit this, understand this at a basic level, after all, how many of you have heard “you never get a second chance to make a first impression?” How many of you have told that to someone else, perhaps a friend or child preparing for an interview, first day of work, first day of school, or perhaps a first date?
How many of us have thought about what this really means, what this concern about first impressions, and specifically this fear of creating a bad first impression really says about us?
Yes, about us. Who are we afraid of being judged by if not each other? OK, just containing things to this room, for many of you, first impressions are well and long passed. Some of you have known each other for decades. A few of you have known each other nearly a century but I ask everyone here, think back to your first-time walking into this, or any other church. I am not going to ask anyone to admit it, but were you nervous? I was. I mean, for me, my first time in this room was during a nearly all-day interview, but I was nervous before my first Sunday preaching here.
We are all, and yes, I include myself, so very quick to judge. Very nearly all, and yes, I am still including myself, are quicker to judge negatively than positively. Nearly all of us are much more likely to remember something bad, to remember an insult, or even just a mistake, than we are something good, and act of grace, or kindness.
We are very quick to judge people, and then we decide to stick with that judgement until a vast accumulation of new evidence forces us to change our mind…or we ignore all that pile of new evidence and stick to our original judgement, perhaps proclaiming “people don’t change.”
Our Gospel text today faces this same issue. We began “He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.” Jesus has come home, back to Nazareth. He begins to teach in the synagogue, and at first it seems to be going well, until the people recognize him. Then they ask, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”
They could not change their perception of Jesus. Their first impression of him had been set, and his new wisdom, healings, and more did nothing to change that. The people present did not need to listen to him, did not need to see what he could do, they already knew: he was nothing more than any of them, “the carpenter, the son of Mary.”
Jesus’ response is one of few Jesus sayings found in all four gospels. Frequently, Matthew, Mark, and Luke will share something, only for John to go and do something different, but this saying, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown” or some close variation appears in all four gospels.
Jesus knows how hard it is to change a first impression.
Jesus, of course, also says a great many things about being less judgmental, about being more empathetic to those around you. Jesus himself frequently models giving people deeper looks, and I am sure most of you have heard many, many sermons about those texts and those stories before.
This text does something different. With these two stories paired together, I think we get to see something different. We do not see Jesus choosing not to harshly judge someone others look down on. We get to see Jesus responding to being judged himself.
Mark’s gospel does not finish the story of Jesus’ visit to Nazareth, but instead continues to Jesus sending out the disciples, two by two, to preach and heal in the Galilee. Neither Mark nor the lectionary writers separate these two stories, and so I think, when we hear Jesus tell the disciples, “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”
Jesus tells the disciples, when they fail the first impression test, when people decide not to hear them, they need to “shake the dust off their feet” and keep moving. Jesus literally tells the disciples to shake it off.
Do not dwell on their judgement. Do not dwell on their failure to listen, on their failure to see the value in you. Shake it off. Keep moving, keep teaching, keep healing. When you are doing what is right, when you are practicing God’s welcome, when you are genuinely proclaiming the gospel, do not waste your time or your energy trying to reach everyone. Reach those you can reach, do what you can do, and keep moving.
When you have been hurt by others judgement because we all have hurt by others judgement, because certainly the disciples would have been hurt by others’ judgement and rejection, and I think even Jesus was hurt by his rejection in Nazareth, shake it off.