Sermon Commentary for Sunday, July 7, 2024

Mark 6:1-13 Commentary

There are many reasons to go home, and there are plenty of reasons some of us would rather not. Being fully differentiated, Jesus didn’t have the same baggage as some of us do related to our hometowns, but that doesn’t mean the welcome wagon rolls out for the Son of Man.

Nazareth was a small community and everybody knows Jesus and his family. The way they talk about Jesus among themselves reveals their opinion: he is Mary’s son—not Joseph’s. Jesus is the son of the girl who was pregnant before she was married. And even though Jesus has a crew of disciples with him now, Jesus comes from ordinary stock—the people in the synagogue list his brothers by name and even make reference to his sisters. In their eyes, Jesus is a Nobody because they know who he is and where he comes from.

It is Jesus’s pedigree that will carry the day in their minds. Even though the people in the synagogue start off by being “astounded” as they listen to Jesus teach, and even though they have heard about the miracles that Jesus has performed since he’s been gone, and even though they wonder at it all, they can’t accept that Jesus is a Somebody because they are convinced that they, his hometown neighbours, already know who he is.

Unlike the other identity narratives we see placed on Jesus throughout the gospels, this one rejects the truth because the truth’s too big. To those who grew up with Jesus, the idea that he contains great wisdom and does great miracles cannot possibly be the case because Jesus has never been good enough for such a destiny. After all is said and done, Jesus is and always will be a labourer, illegitimately born, one of many ordinary children.

It’s the same sort of trap we can fall into when we’ve known and grown up with God. We can hear stories about what God is doing—maybe even be quite impressed by them—until we start to wonder how this God and the God we think we know could possibly be the same God. Most of us, instead of being stretched in faith and knowledge, will choose to stay with the familiar of what we think we know. That’s probably because we’ve staked a lot of our faith on what we think we know. But we fail to remember a significant theological truth: it is not in the specific actions that God is unchanging, but it is actually in God’s perfect character, purposes, and will that God is unchangingly faithful.

That’s what makes the little detail about healing so interesting. Jesus continues to be the kind of God he has already shown himself to be. Along with being full of wisdom, he is a healer, welcoming and partnering with the faith of others. Belief has a lot to do with what we’re willing to accept. First we saw it in the knowledge and identity department and now we see it in the realm of healing.

We can easily fall into the trap of cause and effect here. Does Mark want us to understand that Jesus was handcuffed by the Nazarenes’ disbelief? Perhaps. And yet, the consistent connection between belief/faith and healing is not the only point of import in the gospels. Throughout the Gospels we also see Jesus refusing to perform great deeds of power when the people want a sign or reason to believe in him. Jesus doesn’t do miracles to prove himself—for God it’s not about dazzling us into belief but about blessing his creation. Could that also be what is happening here in Nazareth? Amazed at their disbelief, knowing that they have rejected him as someone to respect and listen to, Jesus may not be able to do any deeds of power among them because it would be for the wrong reasons. Great deeds of power aren’t meant to be the sole foundation of our faith either.

The Gospel writer brings us from this rejection to the sending of the twelve on mission. In pairing these two events together, the lectionary affords us another angle of reflection. Jesus brought the disciples with him to Nazareth where they witnessed his rejection. It’s early on in their discipleship, so the lesson of failure might have been a bit of a let down of that early excitement for them. And perhaps Jesus purposefully led them through his hometown humiliation as preparation for their own rejection on the road.

From Jesus in his hometown, they would have learned by example how to respond to other people judging them for where they come from. They would have seen Jesus respond without sin, keeping committed to his own mission—some were healed after all—and stating the truth matter-of-factly. From Jesus’s restraint to not overwhelm his former neighbours with his marvellous abilities, the disciples would have been reminded that the Kingdom is great and small, built on the Spirit moving people in faith as they welcome the truth that contradicts what they think they know about the Almighty.

And they would have learned the freedom of being able to identify the truth of a situation and be free from the pressure of trying to change others. Freed from being responsible for others and what they believe, the disciples become responsible to others: bringing God’s authority, healing, and faith.

Textual Point

Exegetes point out that this is the last time that Jesus is in a synagogue in the gospel of Mark. When contrasted with the sending of the twelve immediately following, there is an implicit sense that the kingdom is not bound by the establishment or institution but will, in fact, purposefully go beyond its boundaries.

Illustration Idea

The return to one’s hometown/family-of-origin is a well-worn movie trope because we all know it leads to some good drama. Jesus’s experience fits right in as the people in his hometown can only see him through the tint of the gossip and utter ordinariness of his family. Jesus’s attitude is different than most of our movie characters, though; Jesus doesn’t try to impress anyone or get the respect he deserves.


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