|Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at
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Our text contains two stories: Jesus' rejection at Nazareth (6:1-6a) and the Sending of the Twelve (6:7-13). They are separated by a brief summary of Jesus' work in 6:6b. The conclusion of the Sending of the Twelve occurs in 6:30 when they return. Sandwiched between their sending and return is the death of John the Baptist -- our text for next week.
In most outlines, Jesus' rejection comes as the conclusion to Mark's miracle section (4:35-5:43). In a similar way, the first major section of Mark (1:14-3:6) concludes with rejection by Pharisees and Herodians. They conspire together to destroy Jesus. Increasingly in Mark, those who reject Jesus are closer to him: First the Pharisees and Herodians, then the people of Jesus' hometown. Finally, his own disciples will betray him, desert him, and deny him.
The rejection of Jesus at Nazareth presents a strong contrast to the two miracles that preceded it (5:21-43). The healed woman is told, "Daughter, your faith has made you well" (5:34). Jairus is told, "Do not fear, only believe" (5:36). However, the hometown people have no faith (apistia, v. 6 -- also used in 9:24 -- "I believe, help my unbelief"). Jesus is unable to do many works of power (dynamis -- v. 5, also in v. 2) -- although he does some. The relationship between faith and works of power I will talk about later.
At the end of the first miracle, the disciples ask, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (4:41). They don't know who Jesus is? In contrast to this, the hometown people think they know who Jesus is: "He is the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and sisters." They don't know where he got his power or wisdom. It is essentially their knowledge of Jesus that keeps them from really knowing and benefiting from Jesus. Could this be a warning to all people who think that they know Jesus, but, in fact, may misunderstand and reject the real Jesus? Even if one disagrees with the conclusions of the Jesus Seminary, I think that the warning in the Introduction to The Five Gospels is worth serious consideration: "Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you. [p. 5]
Witherington (The Gospel of Mark) makes a connection between these verses and 3:21, 31-35 in that, "both texts suggest the idea that Jesus' physical relationship to his family proves to be a stumbling block for his family to see Jesus as he truly is. There is furthermore the connection that Jesus places his relatives and even his own household in a category other than that of believer or disciple" [p. 192].
The word translated "carpenter" (tekton) may be more properly translated "builder". A tekton was not limited to working with wood, but could use stone or even metal in building. The word occurs twice in the NT. The references are listed in the quote below.
What do the hometown people know about Jesus that would lead them to reject him? While there is much that I disagree with in Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, by John Dominic Crossan, I am intrigued by his discussion of the social status of tekton:
Ramsay MacMullen has noted that one's social pedigree would easily be known in the Greco-Roman world and that a description such as "carpenter" indicated lower class status [Roman Social Relations: 50 B.C. to A.D. 384]. At the back of his book he gives a "Lexicon of Snobbery" filled with terms used by literate and therefore upper-class Greco-Roman authors to indicate their prejudice against illiterate and therefore lower-class individuals. Among those terms is tekton, or "carpenter," the same term used for Jesus in Mark 6:3 and for Joseph in Matthew 13:55. One should not, of course, ever presume that upper-class sneers dictated how the lower classes actually felt about themselves. But, in general, the great divide in the Greco-Roman world was between those who had to work with their hands and those who did not. [p. 24]
Crossan, using a study by Gerhard Lenski [Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification], defines the upper and lower classes in an order of importance.
Ruler and Governors
Retainers ranging from military generals to expert bureaucrats
Peasants -- the vast majority of the population, the crop-raisers
If Jesus was a carpenter, therefore, he belonged to the Artisan class, that group pushed into the dangerous space between Peasants and Degradeds or Expendables.... Furthermore, since between 95 and 97 percent of the Jewish state was illiterate at the time of Jesus, it must be presumed that Jesus also was illiterate, that he knew, like the vast majority of his contemporaries in an oral culture, the foundational narratives, basic stories, and general expectations of his tradition but not the exact texts, precise citations, or intricate arguments of its scribal elites. [pp. 25-26]
Crossan also quotes Celsus, a pagan philosopher who wrote "True Doctrine" sometime between 177 and 180 C.E as an attack on Christianity. The great offense of this faith was not the claim that a human could be born of a virgin or that a human could be divine; but the fact that it could happen to a member of the lower classes! "Class snobbery is, in fact, very close to the root of Celsus's objection to Christianity," to quote Crossan [p. 27].
Witherington (The Gospel of Mark) says something similar:
Notice that they neither dispute that he has wisdom or that he performs mighty works; they are just dumbfounded that it comes from a hometown boy like Jesus. More than just a matter of familiarity breeding contempt, this comes from the ancient mentality that geographical and heredity origins determine who a person is and what his capacities will always be. They see Jesus as someone who is not merely exceeding expectations but rather is overreaching. [p. 192]
I believe that such "snobbery" is at the heart of the rejection of Jesus in Nazareth. Not only is Jesus called a tekton, but the phrase "the son of Mary" is likely to have been a "put-down." People were normally referred to as the son of their father, e.g., Simon Bar Jonah (Mt 16:16). Juel (Mark, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament) writes after discussing some variant readings: "The copyists (and Matthew) recognized the implied insult in speaking of Jesus as Mary's son: it is an intimation that he was illegitimate (a claim presumed in later Jewish legends and in the Fourth Gospel [John 9:29])" [p. 90].
The refusal -- or inability -- of Jesus' neighbors to accept his status confirms what the story has suggested thus far: the world's standards of judgment appear to run headlong into God's ways. Jesus does not measure up. The circumstances of his origin allow no way of accounting for the stories about him. His common beginnings do not fit the assessment that he is a prophet. The result is scandal and fear. The reaction of the people from his hometown also suggests that real insiders are not necessarily those who by birth or circumstance are closest to Jesus. In fact, those who ought to know best turn out to be the most incapable of insight. [pp. 92-93]
Williamson (Mark, Interpretation Commentaries) suggests the same thing: "...the reason his own people did not believe in Jesus was that they thought they knew him so well. "Is not this the carpenter, and are not his (relatives) here with us?" (v. 3). It was inconceivable to them that God could be at work in the commonplace" [p. 117].
In spite of this text, we (and perhaps also the original readers) know that members of Jesus' family became believers and leaders in the community:
"Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers" (Acts 1:14)
"James the Lord's brother" (Gal 1:19; 2:11-12
"James" (the Lord's brother?) (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; James 1:1)
(James the brother of John is killed in Acts 12:2)
"Jude" (the Lord's brother?) (Jude 1)
Perhaps this text is similar to the resurrection narrative. The reader knows more than Mark tells. Does Mark expect the reader to fill in the gaps: How did these unbelieving family members (see also 3:21, 31-35) become leaders in the church? Or, is Mark filling in the gap. "You know about the faith of Jesus' family members, let me tell you the rest of the story. They weren't always believers."
Richard Jensen in Preaching Mark's Gospel warns that making faith a requirement for the miraculous puts us on dangerous theological grounds. [p. 103]
According to a list that I have, there are 15 healing miracles (including exorcisms) in Mark and 5 nature miracles. I'll briefly look at all 20 miracle stories and their relationship to faith.
1:21-28 healing in the synagogue -- faith not mentioned
1:29-31 healing Peter's mother-in-law -- faith not mentioned
1:32-34 healing all the sick -- faith not mentioned
1:40-45 healing a leper -- faith not mentioned
2:1-12 healing a paralytic -- Jesus sees(!) the faith of the four friends
3:1-6 healing a withered hand -- faith not mentioned
4:35-41 calming the storm -- disciples' lack of faith mentioned
5:1-20 healing the Gerasene demoniac -- faith not mentioned
5:21-24a, 35-43 healing Jairus' daughter -- Jairus is told to believe
5:24b-34 healing the bleeding woman -- "Your faith has made you well"
6:5-6 healing a few in Nazareth -- Jesus is amazed at their unbelief
6:30-44 feeding the 5000 -- a hint of the disciples' lack of faith
6:45-52 walking on water -- disciples' hard hearts mentioned
6:53-56 healing the sick in Gennesaret -- faith not mentioned
7:24-30 healing the Syrophoenician's daughter -- faith not mentioned, but perhaps illustrated by her reply to Jesus
7:31-37 healing a deaf-mute -- faith not mentioned
8:1-10 feeding the 4000 -- a hint at the disciples' lack of faith
8:22-26 healing a blind man -- faith not mentioned
9:14-29 healing the epileptic -- Jesus says: "All things can be done for the one who believes." The father expresses partial belief: "I believe, help my unbelief"
10:46-52 healing blind Bartimaeus -- "Your faith has made you well"
11:12-14, 20-24 cursing the fig tree -- Jesus tells the disciples after the miracle: "If you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."
Faith is not mentioned in most of the miracles in Mark. One could also do a brief review of "prayer" and miracles. Sometimes the healed asked for healing, sometimes they did not. Divine miracles are not under our control, either by our faith or by our prayers. They come from the will and power of God.
However, Williamson makes these comments:
The clear implication is that if they had believed in him, Jesus could have done a great deal more. The spiritual climate of a congregation, its sense of expectancy, its openness to the power of God at work through Jesus Christ, will in fact have a great deal to do with how much God's power can accomplish in that particular community. Our unbelief does not render God impotent, but when it is dominant in a congregation its dampening effect on the mighty acts of God in that time and place is evident and sad. [pp. 116-117]
It may be that the people's lack of faith revealed itself in the fact that they didn't seek Jesus' help. They didn't bring their sick for healing. They didn't bring their children for his blessing. They didn't come to listen to his teaching. Faith implies actions. Without faith in Jesus, the people did nothing. What differences should it make if council members or committee members believe Jesus is present at their meetings? What about Jesus' powerful presence in our worship services? Or in one's own life? I've heard it said that many Christians are "functional atheists" -- they live and function as though there were no God. Could that lack of faith keep one from reaping as many benefits as God would give?
This interpretation can be supported by the word atimos, translated "without honor" in NRSV. The basic meaning of the root time is to "put a price or value on". We "honor" those things and people on whom we place a high value. The fact that Jesus felt "dishonored" by the people means that they did not value him. He was just a carpenter. He was just the son of Mary. He was just one of the siblings. He was nobody important. Why should they bother to bring their sick to him?
Perkins (Mark, New Interpreters Bible) builds on this idea:
Since Galilee was prosperous during this period, Jesus and his family were not impoverished tenant farmers or day laborers. But his status as a local craftsman would have been considerably lower than that of a member of the educated class, who could devote himself to learning the Law. Villagers commonly resent those who attempt to elevate their position above that to which they are entitled by birth. The attempt by Jesus' family to stop his wandering and public preaching in 3:21 implies that from the perspective of the village, Jesus was thought to be dishonoring his family. [p. 592]
Faith opens us up to receive what God wants to give us. Sometimes it may be the miraculous. Sometimes it may be crosses. As the next part of the lesson indicates, sometimes the faithful and empowered disciples will meet with success and sometimes with rejection. Jesus' powerful presence doesn't guarantee "success".
One way this may be related to the first story is in the common-place-ness of the messengers. I don't believe that fishermen were part of the upper crust of society. I know that tax collectors did not have good reputations among the people. Besides their lower status and probable lack of formal religious training (except for their time with Jesus); these twelve have not proven themselves to be strong pillars of faith so far in Mark. The previous time Jesus spoke to the disciples, he was not complementary: "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" (4:40) -- and these are the people he is sending out!! If that's what Jesus' requires, most of us are well qualified. The power to do the miraculous doesn't necessarily depend upon the faith of the messenger, but the authority/power (exousia) given by Jesus.
Another way this may be related to the first part is the rejection that Jesus experienced in his hometown and that the twelve will experience in their mission work. People will refuse to listen to the good news that we have to proclaim. As Juel writes: "In his instructions, Jesus prepares the disciples for rejection as well as success" [p. 94].
Shaking the dust off one's feet was a gesture of cursing a place. It symbolized a complete break from a community. Not a trace of it will be carried with them.
Pheme Perkins (Mark, The New Interpreter's Bible) makes this comment: "Even the most sophisticated and culturally sensitive presentation of the gospel can be rejected. Christians are not to waste their resources in such situations. Others are waiting to hear the gospel" [p. 596].
Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Church) writes about his stress on the unbelievers from the beginning of his mission congregation:
We've never encouraged other believers to transfer their membership to our church; in fact, we have openly discouraged it. We don't want transfer growth. In every membership class we say, "If you are coming to Saddleback from another church, you need to understand up front that this church was not designed for you. It is geared toward reaching the unchurched who do not attend anywhere. If you are transferring from another church you are welcome here only if you are willing to serve and minister. If all you intend to do is attend services, we'd rather save your seat for someone who is an unbeliever. There are plenty of good Bible-teaching churches in this area that we can recommend to you." [p. 39]
At my last congregation, I did a study of all the members who had ever been part of the congregation. (The congregation was organized in 1976, so the list isn't overly long.) This started with a question, "Was this congregation ever a 'mission congregation' (i.e., reaching the unchurched) or was it primarily a 'branch office' (i.e., providing a place for the Lutherans moving into the area)?" 51% of our members were transfers from other Lutheran congregations. 24% of our members were received through children's baptisms -- meaning that their parents were probably members of a Lutheran Church. Adding the two together, 75% of our members came from Lutheran backgrounds. 11% joined by affirming their faith -- meaning that they had been members of another denomination. Some of these may not have been very active members. Only 3% of our members joined through adult baptisms -- the clearest indication of reaching out to the unchurched. My guess is that the statistics in most mainline congregations would be similar. Even "mission congregations" were usually built as "branch offices" rather than "mission outposts."
Sending the disciples out two by two may have been done for safety reasons. It was dangerous to travel alone on the ancient roads. It may have been associated with legal requirements for two witnesses to testify in a case (Num 35:30; Dt 19:15). It may have been for mutual strengthening. Often I have needed the support of a colleague when times were difficult.
Crossan compares and contrasts Cynic missionaries and Jesus missionaries. Both groups were allowed to carry a staff. The Cynics were to carry "a bag" (or "knapsack"). Crossan writes: "What it symbolized for the Cynics was their complete self-sufficiency. They carried their homes with them. All they needed could be carried in a simple knapsack slung over their shoulders" [p. 118].
In contrast, he writes about Jesus' missionaries without "a bag": "...they could not and should not dress to declare itinerant self-sufficiency but rather communal dependency" [p.119].
To perhaps state this in more general terms: They had to live what they believed. How do we show our dependency on God? Should the congregation operate with a "faith" budget or no budget, trusting God to provide the income; or a "balanced" budget; where the planned spending equals the anticipated income? (I've known pastors who only received only part of their salary, because "faith" didn't bring in enough money -- and pastors who have received notice that the Board of Pensions was canceling their medical coverage because the congregation hadn't paid the premiums.)
Or, another way of interpreting these actions is that we approach the people we seek to help, needing help from them, too. The disciples had to rely on the generosity of the people they were serving. If I remember right, every community was to have its own "traveler's assistance" program. Travelers would expect to find food and shelter in each town.
Related to what I've said above, how reliable would we consider the message of a transient coming through town? Do we ignore the message because the messenger isn't up to our standards of proper conduct or dress or class -- being in an acceptable socio-economic category?
Douglas John Hall (Why Christian? For those on the edge of faith) has a chapter with the question "Why Church?" Part of his answer to why church is necessary is: "...the church's necessity lies also in its 'necessary' mission to the world" [p. 138].
In expounding on that answer, he makes the following contrast:
...for religion, as distinct from faith, is from beginning to end all about conquering -- first conquering God, getting control of the Controller, as those poor builders of the Tower of Babel wanted to do (Genesis 11), and then conquering everybody else. Religion is always about power. Faith, on the contrary, is about love -- and therefore weakness. Yes, weakness! For the only "power" that can commend love is from the vantage point of worldly ways sheer weakness -- the weakness of serving others, of being ready to suffer for and with them, of considering them before oneself, patience, kindness ... all those things that we read in Paul's "hymn to love." [p. 140]
To paraphrase what I think he says in this chapter: The "job" of the church is not to convert the world, but to love and serve the world as Jesus did. This would also indicate that our "job" is not primarily to "get new members," but to love and care for people in our communities -- some may join, many will not.
I would translate verse 12: "Going out, they proclaimed, SO THAT they might repent."
The second part of the sentence is a hina clause in Greek. hina normally indicates purpose, aim, or goal. The purpose in their proclaiming is that people might repent -- have a change in mind. This, I think, is much stronger than the NRSV's "They proclaimed that all should repent." This translation makes it should like their proclamation was nothing more than: "You should repent."
I suggest, in good Lutheran fashion, that the proclamation is law/gospel. It includes the demands from God and our failure to live up to them. It includes the grace of God that accepts the law-breakers. We proclaim the truth in such a way that it leads people to repent -- have a change in mind about their own sinfulness and about God's gracefulness.
I was part of a gospel singing group one summer. We heard afterwards, that there was a man in the first church where we presented our message who had said, "If any of those kids has a beard or plays guitar, I'm leaving." I was and continue to be a bearded, guitar player. He left. Because he couldn't accept the messengers, he missed out on the message.
The same might be said for different types of music. Because some can't accept Christian rock and roll or Christian rap or classical, traditional Christian music or German Chorales, they may miss the message that is being proclaimed by the words. A few years ago my mother shared about hearing a drum in church for the first time. She was skeptical -- based on how she though most drummers played. She was pleasantly surprised. However, it is likely that there are some who stayed away because there were going to be drums in church. I've used the analogy that the "packaging" of our good message can make it more or less attractive to the one's we are trying to reach. (At the same time, if the "packaging" becomes more important than the gift, the priorities are mixed up.)
As another theme, I've talked about the phrase, "I'm just a...." I've heard people say, "I'm just a housewife." "I'm just a carpenter." "I'm just a kid." "I'm just a teacher." "I'm just a volunteer." "I'm just a lay person." Throughout scriptures God seems to recruit mediocre messengers -- people who were usually rejected and thrown out of town more than they were accepted and believed. I don't believe that feelings of being "just a ..." disqualifies anyone from being part of God's powerful missionary corps.
There is the theme of living what we believe. The town's people didn't believe Jesus could do anything for them and he couldn't. The missionaries had to live lives believing that God would provide for them. How do we as individuals and as congregations live what we believe in a public way? What difference does our faith make in our daily lives?
A theme that I haven't discussed because I don't have good answers is how do we "cast out demons" and "anoint and heal the sick" today? If we aren't seeing the miraculous in our ministries, is it because we are not trying? Is it because we aren't using the power and authority Jesus has given us? Is it because of the people's lack of faith that prevents us from healing the sick? (Note that the same rare word for sick, arrostos, is used in vv. 5 & 13.) Is it because we're looking for miracles in all the wrong places and missing God's presence in the common and "natural", e.g., what doctors and medicines do?
Six years ago when I preached on this text, it was in a particularly, personally difficult situation. I was preaching on this text in my parent's congregation -- and, at the time, my dad was dying of cancer. (He passed away in August 2000.) Beyond his condition, they belong to a congregation of many older members. My guess is that most have lost their parents. Many have lost their spouses. They have experienced sicknesses that were not cured -- unless we interpret death as a "cure". In my present congregation, we have a number of people struggling with cancer -- going through chemotherapy. We've had a couple of young men spend months in alcoholic treatment programs. How do we make this text speak to such people in a meaningful way? These are people who are struggling with illnesses and "demons". How I wish we could cure them with anointing with oil, a touch, and a word.
However, I note that all of the people Jesus healed, they were only temporarily healed. They died at some later point.
It may be, and I have seen it, that when one knows that the end of their life is near, they are a bit like the disciples on the road with nothing of their own to rely on. They live trusting in the power of God -- not necessarily for healing, but for eternal life. They can be powerful witnesses to their faith in a gracious God even when there are no miraculous cures for their ailments.
We need to remember that at the heart of our faith is the cross -- and Jesus did not save himself from that suffering and death. There is life after that death, but trusting in God's power did not relieve Jesus of his suffering.
As I commented at the beginning of these notes, while the disciples are out preaching and healing, John the Baptist is put to death. What is Mark telling us by this sandwiching of texts about our walk with Jesus?
The "driving out of demons" was an important part of Jesus' ministry and of his disciples in Mark (1:34, 39; 3:15, 22; 6:13; 7:26; 9:18, 28, 38). Where does it fit into the ministries of our congregations and people today?
Who or what are demons today? Can we generalize them to refer to anything or anyone that impedes wholeness for individuals and society? If so, what is our role as believers and congregations in driving out these unhealthy factors in people's lives?
Perhaps to wrap up these stories, when is the "demonic" that stands in the way of Jesus' saving presence our own misperceptions of Jesus (and his followers) -- that he, they, and we are just to common and ordinary to be powerful conveyors of God's saving grace?
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