Gleanings from the Text
Mark 6: 1-13
Like much scripture, this passage is full of richness and this for contemplation, interpretation, and discovery. As many have previously commented, this passage asks us to consider the humanity of Jesus as well as, perhaps, examine our own human nature.
Structurally, the passage is very similar to Mark 3:7-35, but only in reverse. Could this be to reinforce an important point that the writer is trying to make? Both pericopes are ultimately about Jesus being accepted by outsiders and rejected by those who intimately know him. It is strangers who believe and have faith in Jesus and are drawn to his capacity to heal the ill and exorcise demons; it is kinfolk (Mark 3) and hometown neighbors (Mark 6) that chide and admonish him, who cannot believe that a carpenter and the “son of Mary” could be a prophet with extraordinary powers. The pericopes also feature the naming or commissioning of his twelve apostles.
Today’s Gospel reading can be neatly divided into two parts. In Mark 6:1-6, Jesus returns home (presumably to Nazareth) only to be shunned and snubbed by those who have known him since his youth. Not only do they not have faith in him, but they also take offense at (were scandalized by/stumbled over [from the Greek εσκανδαλιξαντο]) what he is presumably doing (Mark 6:3). In Mark 6:7-13, Jesus departs to the villages and commissions his disciples, sending them out in pairs. It is interesting here that the author Mark is more concerned with the practicalities of their mission (what they are to take and how they are to behave) than with the mission itself (Myers et. al., 72).
A few additional points are worth mentioning. First, we see the real humanity of Jesus highlighted in this pericope. Jesus is described in terms of his trained profession (τέκτων, which can be translated craftsman, workman, worker in wood, and possibly even stonemason although the tradition suggests that Jesus was a carpenter). Furthermore, he is known to be a son with siblings. The fact that he is referred to as Mary’s son, rather than that of Joseph could be interpreted in many ways. Has Joseph died? Is this a denunciation on behalf of the villagers who see him perhaps as an illegitimate child? Could it be the writer’s way of referring to the virgin birth? Different authors have offered varying explanations (see Hare, 69). Finally, here Jesus exhibits human emotional qualities. Jesus is amazed at his hometown residents’ unbelief (Mark 6:6).
A second point is that Jesus’ powers (Mark 6:5) seem to be dependent upon the faith that others have in him. We see this regularly in Mark (e.g. 2:5 and 5:34). But, here, it is unbelief or disbelief that seems to inhibit Jesus (Mark 6:5). What does this suggest?
Food for Thought
Unlike the prodigal son in Luke (Luke 15:11-32) who, after months or years away, is welcomed back with open arms by his father, Jesus’ neighbors upon his return home reject him simply for who he is or whom they believe him to be. They cannot understand where or how Mary’s “kid”, the carpenter, received wisdom and ability for power “done by his hands.” Do we too often make assumptions about individuals whom we believe we know well but have not seen in years? Have we lost faith in them as children and believe, now decades later, they will act the same? This is a striking passage that warns us not to make such crass assumptions.
Furthermore, how does our faith, or lack there of, in God and humanity affect outcomes in concrete situations? Although we may not have the prophetic powers of Jesus, whether or not we believe or have faith in a person may have a stunning effect on a particular state of affairs. Situations often require trust and reciprocal responses of faith. As Douglas Hare puts it, “God’s power is unlimited, but its expression is correlated with the response of faith. An imperfect but helpful analogy is provided by human relationships; love, to be fully experienced, must be returned” (Hare, 70). Just as Jesus’ neighbors, with their unbelief, seemed to affect his ability to perform wondrous acts, our negativities and disbeliefs often hinder the hopeful outcomes we seek to attain.
Sink Your Teeth Into This!
In 1973, the New York Mets found themselves in last place at the end of the month of August. Baseball fans were writing off the team. Once again, a reputation preceded them: there were a group of young talent players and a few veterans that always seemed to fall short. Then Tug McGraw, an able relief pitcher, rallied his teammates and their fans behind the slogan, “You Gotta Believe”. And they did, winning 21 of their last 29 games and going from worst to first. The pennant was won because the team had faith, the fans had faith; all heard the rallying call and responded. None would heed to their supposed reputation.
In Northern New Mexico, reputation is often tied family origin. Just like Jesus was Mary’s “boy”, here Virgil might be known as Floyd’s son. Furthermore, last names carry a lot of weight for better or worse. While not denying the importance of family connections, sometimes it seems that the individual can get lost in the family; that is, the reputation of the family can cloud how we might understand the individual and his or her own worth and ability.
Yet, when we begin to believe in the individual worth of each and every person, might it just be that miracles -- real or perceived -- can happen? Miracles from a shoddy 1973 baseball team; miracles from the Martinez kid in Espanola; miracles from Mary’s boy, the carpenter, who has just returned home to Nazareth.
Works Cited or Referenced
Hare, D. R. A. Westminster Bible Companion: Mark. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1996.
Myers, C., Dennis. M., Nangke, J., Moe-Lobeda, C., and S. Taylor. “Say To This Mountain”: Mark's Story of Discipleship. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books,1997.
Perkins, P. “Mark” in The New Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. VIII. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995.
Williamson, L. Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Mark. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1983.
Mark Zaineddin is a 2008 Union-PSCE graduate. A native Northeasterner, he know finds his home and work in the Southwest at Ghost Ranch, a PC(USA) national education and retreat center in Abiquiu, NM. He encourages all to come and visit, whether it is your first time or fortieth.