"Isn't This the Carpenter?"

Ordinary 14B

Mark 6: 1 6

Introduction

The incident recorded in this brief account followed our Lord's very successful ministry at Capernaum. He had just healed the daughter of Jairus and the woman who touched his clothing. He was deeply impressed with their great faith. He was soon to be confronted by a very different reception.

Some Notes On the Text

Verse 1

Our Lord decided to take a little time out in his old hometown where he grew up. This seems to be the first time he returned home with a circle of disciples attached to him in Jewish rabbinic style. Theophylactus (11th Century Byzantine exegete) taught:

"After the miracles that Christ had performed, though he was not ignorant how much they despised him, yet that there might be no excuse for their disbelief, he condescended to return to them."

We have, here, therefore, a model in the ministry of Jesus, that if he feels he has been rejected through bias and prejudice, he takes the initiative to provide people with another opportunity, so they can engage with him in person, and make their own judgement. Jesus therefore appears before his old acquaintances in the town of Nazareth.

Verse 2a

When Sabbath came round, though he was "a local", he was accorded the respect paid to visitors, and was invited to speak, and comment upon the Scriptures chanted as part of the service. Many of those present were amazed at both what he said and the way he explained it. Few would have heard him comment upon the Scriptures before.

Verses 2b and 3

Despite the amazement at the depth of Jesus' teaching, the locals at Nazareth are sceptical. And they are quite unrestrained in their comments. It is almost at the level of, "Who does he think he is, putting on airs like that! He'd better not forget he is only one of us!"

To demean our Lord even further, they add comments like: "Isn't he the carpenter who used to be just down the road living with his parents? And aren't James, Joseph, Judas and Simon his family also? Clearly, they took offence at him, and made certain he got the message!

A minor note should be made here of yet another matter Christians bitterly clash on; and that is the reference to the brothers and sisters of Jesus as grounds for denying the perpetual virginity of Mary his mother. One can argue about the validity or otherwise of this belief, but it is poor exegesis to try and prove one's case from Mark 6: 3! Paul Achtemeier offers a common sense guideline for those who want to be unbiased:

Contrary to normal Jewish practice, Jesus is identified by his mother rather than his father, although some manuscripts read "son of the carpenter and Mary." Yet Mark nowhere in his Gospel mentions Joseph, perhaps because he had long since died, perhaps because Jesus' true father is God. Later church disputes over whether Mary remained a virgin after Jesus' birth raised problems about how "brothers" and "sisters" are to be understood here.

In Mark's context, their mention is merely intended to show that the villagers perceived Jesus as no different from any of them. His family was known, including his brothers and sisters. The problem of Mary's virginity is simply absent from Mark's Gospel.

(Invitation to Mark, Doubleday 1978)

Graham Swift also offers some excellent advice on interpreting this incident:

The fact of His wisdom and power was undeniable, but they questioned the divine origin of these things, the implication being that when the obviously supernatural does not come from God it must emanate from the devil. This is the essence of unbelief, the stubborn refusal to accept the evidence and admit the presence and power of God; and nothing so inhibits the power of God. That he could do no mighty work there (v. 5) is one of the boldest statements in the Gospels, but it clearly shows that our Lord's miracles were no mere magic; they were vitally related to the moral condition and faith of the people. Though He is omnipotent, God in His sovereignty will not act for blessing in the face of human rebellion.

(New Bible Commentary Revised. Inter-Varsity 1970)

Verse 4

Somewhat distraught at the negativity he encountered, Jesus summed up exactly how he felt with his oft-quoted remark:

"A prophet is not without honour except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house."

Our Lord is definitely feeling demeaned. We are tempted to wonder: is it "familiarity breeds contempt"? After all, the locals did mutter among themselves that Jesus had come back home "putting on airs". Their attitude seemed to be that if he really were the Messiah, there wouldn't be any doubt about it.

The real issue in this incident is that the standards by which they assessed the value of our Lord's teaching were false. They were "off course" in their religion. They had departed from its core values. This being the case, they didn't have a show of realising he was the one to follow. It was a great tragedy, but it was their choice!

Seen from another angle we could say they rejected Jesus because they did not know him. They thought they did, but their actions betrayed their unworthy thoughts.

Verses 5 and 6

Jesus was very saddened by the unbelief of his own townspeople: by the obstinate refusal either to believe the testimony of witnesses or to be willing to assess his ministry without bias. As a result, he was (on the only occasion recorded in the Gospels) amazed at their lack of faith, and was unable to do any great miracles other than a few examples of healing. We do not say he "could not" do any great miracles, since we know he did have that power. Evidently, in God's economy of salvation, if a body of his people refuse to believe when the evidence is staring them in the face, he honours their free-will choice and submits to the constrictions that imposes.

Our Lord, refusing to be out flanked, moved on and went out around the surrounding villages teaching those who were prepared to listen to him. Those who choose to listen to him and assimilate what he teaches always have their vision of him much enhanced.

Conclusion

This short lesson has some very powerful lessons for the devoted followers of Jesus.

Almost everyone reading these notes will be aware that much modern Biblical scholarship (both Protestant and Catholic) considers the miracles of Jesus embarrassing and finds most imaginative ways to explain them away. We reject that so-called scholarship as false and misguided.

1. Other writers, wanting to underpin the Gospel accounts err by insisting on the presence of faith in order for a miracle to be accomplished. That is just as false as Mark 4: 35 — 41 demonstrates. The real issue is that, as St Mark goes to great lengths to help us understand, we will never grasp the meaning of Jesus' miracles except through faith in him. They are intimations of the heavenly spiritual order, and as such are closed to the sceptic, who can only scoff, and indeed, be left free to do so.

2. In our text for reflection, the local townspeople of Nazareth had the opportunity to acknowledge the humble greatness of Jesus. It is easy to slip into the habit of condemning them for this. However, in the contemporary Church today the same false standards of judgements by which we estimate greatness are just as much a problem. People flock to hear many preachers who specialise in mega-ministries because of the same messianic notion which requires vast numbers of people, miracles virtually on demand, and a leader who bulldozes his / her way through Sacred Scripture. Huge numbers have become psychologically dependant on this type of modern consumeristic religion.

3. The local inhabitants of our Lord's town were super-confident they knew him when in fact they did not; nor had they any real inclination to understand him. In the spiritual domain, such failure always comes down to lack of true knowledge of the Scriptures, especially by those who most claim to live by them! That is true in any age.

Throughout Christianity today, people stand up in Church say and do the most absurd things whilst claiming it to be evidence of the Holy Spirit active in their midst. Yet the same people have not the slightest interest in listening to a short passage from the Gospels and meditating on the teaching of Jesus which it contains. Is this not a cause for alarm, and the very fulfilment of our Lord's own prediction that people will choose the new and fascinating in preference to the sound and solid teaching he bequeathed the Church? Meditation on the Holy Gospels is indeed a radical call to battle!

We close on a "quieter" note with a beautiful reflection from the Glenstal Bible Missal:

One can draw two lessons from this account. First, that there is a way of paralysing someone, of reducing him to powerlessness, simply by withdrawing confidence from him, imprisoning him in ready-made categories. What energies are suppressed, discouraged, what joys smothered by our final judgements on those whom we believe we know! In our estimation of others, do we leave room for hope?

But there is more to it than that. God calls us too, not by extraordinary people, but by very ordinary beings in whom we have to recognise the unpredictable presence of the one sent by God. The guest, the neighbour, the sick person, the stranger, the one at my side, are so many channels of grace, if we guard in our hearts this dynamism of expectancy which calls for and brings about miracles. Yes, God has need of men in order to manifest himself.

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