TEXT: Mark 6:1-13
Jesus … came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “… 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 offence at him. (Mark 6:1-3)
So Jesus returns to his home town. And on the Sabbath day he enters the synagogue and begins to teach.
Here he is, in the place where he grew up. Among those who watched him grow up.
Surely, Jesus’ reputation has preceded him. He’s been on a preaching tour of the surrounding countryside. Doubtless, accounts of his insightful teaching—and of his great prowess as a healer—must have trickled back to Nazareth.
Through the previous chapters of Mark’s gospel, we’ve been given a glimpse into what Jesus has been doing. Brilliant teaching, certainly. But there have also been … miracles.
Yes. Miracles. In chapter two of Mark, we read about how—in the city of Capernaum—four people carry a paralyzed man to see Jesus. But the venue is packed, and they can’t get anywhere near him. So they employ a new strategy: they punch a hole in the roof and lower their friend down through it, until he reaches Jesus’ feet.
According to Mark: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven … Stand up, take your mat and go to your home’” (Mark 2:3-12). And the man did exactly that.
In chapter four, Jesus calms a storm at sea, saying nothing more than “Peace! Be still!” (Mark 4:39).
In chapter five, Jesus casts a swarm of demons into a herd of pigs, delivering a man from their oppression. Then a woman—merely by touching Jesus’ garment as he passes by—is healed of an hemorrhagic illness that has plagued her for over a decade. After that, Jesus raises a 12-year-old girl from death, surprising a multitude of witnesses.
Quite the reputation he’s been building up. Then he goes home. He enters the synagogue and begins to teach, and the people are astounded. But apparently not in a good way. They are astounded that this little boy who grew up amongst them now presumes to sit in the teacher’s chair. Recalling his humble roots, they quickly take offence.
“Isn’t this Mary’s little brat, gotten too big for his britches? Who does he think he is, anyway? He’s a carpenter, not some kind of prophet!”
And Mark tells us that Jesus was “amazed at their unbelief” (Mark 6:6).
“Prophets are not without honour,” Jesus said, “except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”
This isn’t the first time Mark tells us about one of Jesus’ visits home. In chapter three, he recounts another such visit. That time, Jesus’ own family wanted to put him in a strait jacket, “for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind’” (Mark 3:21).
“Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”
Jesus must have been sad when he uttered those words. And probably at least a little bit hurt, as well, to realize that the ones who should have known him best could not look beyond their familiarity with him.
What a humbling experience. But perhaps God provided it in order to preserve Jesus’ humility—much as he gave the apostle Paul that “thorn in the flesh” to keep his ego in check (2 Cor. 12:7).
Perhaps. In any case, this event in the Nazareth synagogue points out something about human nature. It has to do with the way we regard the familiar. Because I think we’re all like this, to greater or lesser degree. We become so accustomed to the ordinary that we fail to notice the extraordinary. More honestly, we don’t want to notice it. So we refuse to acknowledge it.
The philosopher Bertrand Russell—a self-declared atheist—was once asked what he would say if he arrived in heaven and God asked him why he hadn’t believed. Russell famously answered, “Not enough evidence, God. Not enough evidence.”
Not enough evidence. Apparently, Bertrand Russell looked at his everyday surroundings and saw nothing of the divine therein. Nothing divine in the world of nature. Nothing sacred in the human being. Nothing majestic about the night sky.
Not enough evidence. Nothing to make him look beyond the empiricism of … Well, of that which was familiar to him.
Who is this who presumes to teach in the synagogue?
Jesus, how did your head get so big? Do you really expect us to buy into all the hoopla and hype? You haven’t raised anybody from our boot hill. And all those sick people … they probably would have gotten better on their own, anyway!
Yeah, Jesus. We know where you came from. We know who you are. And you are nothing special. There’s not enough evidence to the contrary.
Well, of course, there was plenty of evidence, for those with eyes to see it. Yet familiarity induces a sort of blindness, more often than we might think. Familiarity is comforting. The possibility of something new … Well, that can be terrifying.
I guess that’s why we love the familiar image of Jesus as “The Good Shepherd”—as depicted in so many cherished religious paintings.
My favorite is one by Richard Hook, where Jesus is carrying a lamb across his shoulders. When I was a child, I liked to imagine that I was that lamb, being so lovingly carried. And I think most of us have memories and imaginings like that—very peaceful and warm and fuzzy. As in some other comforting portraits of Jesus—like when he’s sitting with a group of small children, smiling benignly, or taking them up into his arms.
There are fewer paintings of Jesus driving the money-changers out of the temple, violently overturning their tables and threatening them with a whip …
When Jesus challenges us … When his words unsettle us, or his Spirit holds us accountable … or calls us to some difficult task … how do we respond?
There’s abundant evidence of this: Jesus is not only our Shepherd and Saviour; he is also our Lord and our Judge. May God give us eyes to see it.