Prophets, Hometowns, and New Ventures—Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 7B

James Tissot, Jesus Unrolls the Scroll in the Synagogue

Mark 6:1-13 New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him 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! 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?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown and among their own kin and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff: no bread, no bag, no money in their belts, but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 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.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.


                Jesus had made quite a name for himself after his baptism and sojourn in the wilderness with his preaching and healing tours that included raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead. That was true even though he tried to keep things quiet (Mark’s Messianic Secret). Then he went home to Nazareth and the homefolks weren’t all that impressed by him. After all, Nazareth was a small town and people knew him and his family. His experience upon returning home serves as a reminder that you can’t return home.

Reputations can be difficult to escape. They don’t have to be bad reputations, but maybe you got pegged as someone who wouldn’t amount to much in life. Such reputations are difficult to get rid of. So, if that’s true for you, maybe it’s better to just move on to greener pastures. At least that’s the way it worked for me. Moving to places where I wasn’t known allowed me to create a new identity.

Returning home, especially to a small town, comes with certain expectations. When Jesus returned home, he did so with a lot of preconceived notions on the part of his neighbors. For one thing, when he left home he had been a mere carpenter, which likely meant he was a day laborer, perhaps helping build the city of Sepphoris nearby. They knew he was Mary’s son. They knew his siblings, his brothers James, Joses, Judas, and Simon, along with his sisters. Note here that no mention is made of his father. For Mark, of course, Jesus is the Son of God (Mark 1:1), but that identity was in the process of being revealed. Mark ties the foundation of Jesus’ identity to his relationship with God not to a human father, but for the people of Nazareth, Jesus was missing an important identity marker, one that undermined their ability to receive his ministry.  Since no mention is made of Joseph, we might wonder where all these family members came from. The people of Nazareth, in calling him son of Mary might also be suggesting that Jesus was illegitimate, which might also explain why they took offense at his teaching. We should also note here that even his own family was not especially proud of him, since earlier in Mark his family went to get him because they thought he might be out of his mind (Mk3:21). As for Jesus’ view of his family when they asked to see him, he chose not to see them, speaking of his followers as his family members (Mk 3:31-35).

Now, at first, the hometown boy got invited to teach in the local synagogue on the Sabbath. Think here in terms of someone going off to seminary and coming home to preach. Not much is expected (we know this kid). Of course, they had heard about his exploits elsewhere, which had to make them wonder how this could be true. No one had expected something like this from him. So, when he got up to preach, they were quite surprised, even astonished. Where did this wisdom come from? What about the deeds of power that he had accomplished elsewhere? Where did that come from? Obviously, Mark didn’t know about the infancy gospels that portrayed Jesus, even as a child doing deeds of power, such as turning clay pigeons into live ones. Growing up there either was nothing special about him or there was something about him and his background that scandalized the hometown folks. Since they were resistant to his message due to his family and vocational background, he told the people in the synagogue that “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown and among their own kin and in their own house.” Because of their resistance, Mark tells us that Jesus couldn’t do any works of power, except heal a few people. Even as they were amazed at his wisdom, he was amazed, or perhaps, disappointed at their unbelief.

When the people of Nazareth rejected his message, he simply moved on and shared his message in the other villages of the region. Having no preconceived notions about Jesus and his background, they seemed more open to his message.

If the first half of our passage speaks of Jesus’ experiences in his hometown, the rest of the passage describes the calling and deployment of twelve followers. According to Mark, Jesus sent them out two by two. As they ventured out on this missionary effort, they took nothing with them but a staff. They didn’t take food, money, or a bag to carry things. They did get to wear sandals but only one tunic. In other words, they were going to live off the land and the good graces of the people they encountered, and the provisions of God. He told them that when they went to a village, stay in one house until they departed. If they’re not welcomed by a village and the people refuse to listen to them, well simply shake off the dust from your sandals and move on. That action of shaking off the dust will be a message to them. That is, they left a curse on the villages that rejected their message.  

Whether or not the mission was a roaring success—consider the reminder of what they would need to do when their message was rejected—they preached a message of repentance, cast out demons, and anointed the sick with oil, such that many were healed/cured. In other words, they embodied Jesus’ own ministry. Except perhaps in Nazareth and among his family, which was not receptive. Matthew Skinner summarizes the ministry of the Apostles being a “spoken and enacted demonstration of authority, an authority they receive from Jesus Christ. Yet this transformative authority expresses itself in powerlessness, dependency, and relationships” [Connections, p. 141]. As for Jesus’ whereabouts, Mark doesn’t reveal, though most likely he was out and about preaching and healing, while the twelve get a taste of ministering of their own. We don’t get to hear a report from them until Mark 6:30. But as is often true with Mark, they don’t dwell on the report because Jesus wanted to spend some time away from the crowds in prayer. But that’s another story altogether.

The theme here is that not everyone, especially the hometown folks, will receive the message of the Gospel. We may be resistant to things like this for many different reasons, but resistance is common. We know this to be true in our own lives, especially in the church. I remember hearing church consultant Gil Rendle speak of how people respond to calls for change. According to Rendle, there are three groups present in every church. About ten percent of a congregation will resist pretty much anything you suggest. Another ten percent will support just about anything you suggest. The other eighty percent are largely indifferent but open to hearing your ideas. Unfortunately, church leaders tend to focus on trying to change the minds of the ten percent who always vote no, while ignoring the eighty percent who might be open to the message. Jesus could have focused his attention on winning Nazareth to his cause, but they “knew him too well,” and so Jesus moved on. So, should we. As Beverly Zink-Sawyer puts it: “The word for us in this text is that we are not held responsible for the response to our ministries in Christ’s name, but only for own faithfulness. With such assurance, we can witness boldly and faithfully” [Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 3, p. 217].  Amen!



Popular Posts