This little story about the rejection of Jesus in his home town Nazareth, serves as an example of the increasing opposition of the people of Israel to the dawning of the kingdom. Jesus is probably very hurt by the rejection of those with whom he had spent his youth. Their "unbelief" is a slap in the face, and gives Jesus and his team a taste of what was to come.
v1. Leaving Capernaum, Jesus went South into the hill country, to Nazareth ("his own country"). During the previous year, Jesus had focused on selecting and training his disciples. The team now took a break before the Galilean mission, 6:7-13.
v2. On the Sabbath day Jesus and his team visited the local synagogue and Jesus, as a visiting rabbi (accompanied by his disciples), was invited to expound the readings from the Law and the Prophets. His message, and probably also his teaching style, bowled the congregation over, but soon their reaction was anything but positive. They knew Jesus had trained as a carpenter-builder, and certainly not as a rabbi. So, where did his wisdom and power ("miracles") come from? There are two possibilities, either God, or the Devil. For Jesus' neighbors, God seemed a rather remote possibility.
v3. Jesus' neighbors knew of his origins and they were anything but impressed. The question, "Isn't this the carpenter?" draws out the implication that Jesus is nothing more than a common laborer. Such a person would not possess divine knowledge. Also, "Isn't this Mary's son?" infers that Jesus is illegitimate (otherwise they would have said "Joseph's son", even though Joseph is now dead). The congregation knows Jesus' brothers and sisters and so they think they know Jesus. So, in simple terms, they refused to believe in him.
v4. Jesus replies with a contemporary proverb. It was generally accepted that the prophets faced rejection and martyrdom and this often among their own people.
v5. This verse gives rise to two untruths: that Jesus' power is limited and that faith is a prerequisite for healing. Jesus' miracles are not dependent on the faith of the recipient, although it is true to say that a person's faith places them in the center of God's will and therefore enables them to experience His work of grace. As for the work itself, "Jesus' power as saviour knows no bounds, but the use of it does", H. Ridderbos. Jesus has the power to perform messianic signs, but chooses not to, due to the people's rejection of his messianic credentials.
v6. Mark constantly uses the word "amazed" to describe the common response of Israel to Jesus. Our Lord was obviously quite taken aback by the unbelief of his long-time neighbors. Mark wants us to note the consequence of "their lack of faith", namely, the withdrawal of the gospel in word and sign - Jesus leaves them with their unbelief.
Mark's positioning of this passage next to the mission of the twelve in Galilee, serves to place the mission in the context of unbelief and rejection; it serves to remind us that the mission of the church faces the same response as that faced by Jesus and his disciples. The church will always face a pattern of rejection, will always be hard-pressed, from within and from without.
Many of Jesus' sayings are now part of our common psyche. Well we know that "a prophet is not without honor, save among his own people." Put another way, "familiarity breeds contempt."
God's word comes to us through human intermediaries and so it is very easy to allow our judgement of a person to dull our hearing of God's Word. Certainly that's what happened to Jesus' own neighbors and friends, and as we know, even his family. They knew the boy and so they thought knew the man. They even knew his supposed illegitimate background, as well as his rather menial profession as a carpenter-builder. So, why bother listening to his words?
I know that my own judgement has often been clouded by a predetermined analysis of a person's character. I well remember that my move toward Evangelical Anglicanism resulted in the assumption that my old High Church Rector had nothing more to say to me. The only value in his sermons lay in the opportunity they provided for a careful critique of sacramental theology. Thankfully, my youthful piety mellowed with age
Of course, I have similarly found myself squeezed into a tight little box. I once complained, as if "amazed", now I smile within. We will always have to deal with those who are aware of the superiority of their own intelligence; who have conflated the saying I think and I am to mean I think and it is true.
Take care to assess the worth of God's Word. Don't let the personality of the preacher get in the way of the message. Look beyond the outward visage and assess its truth, believe its truth, for then we will find ourselves in the center of God's will, rather than outside where Jesus' power is restrained.
1. Why did they take "offense at him"?
2. Why was Jesus "amazed"?
3. In the context of preaching and teaching, discuss the difficulty of separating our assessment of the preacher's character from that of their words.