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Jesus has come and gone in chapter 5 crossing to the Gentile world and then back to Israel and now to home. He’s been recognized at large and abroad, but here we see that at home he’s questioned, doubted and not recognized beyond his family. Why do the people of Nazareth reject Jesus? Usually a small – or even a big – town celebrates, even exaggerates, the success stories of locals who have made it big.
Initially Jesus seems to be received positively with acclamation, , but somewhere in verses 2-3 everything changes. Why? Did they wonder if Jesus was ‘crazy smart,’ and then decide that he was just crazy? Earlier in Mark 3:21, Jesus’ own family had come to get him because they thought he had “gone out of his mind.” In Mark 6:2, the people asked, “Where did this man get all this?” Did the people of Nazareth decide, like the scribes had in Mark 3:22, that he got it all from a demonic source? Or did they simply regard it as impossible for Jesus to amount to anything? In a social system where status was understood as fixed (i.e., your status at birth defined who you would always be) and honor and shame considerations were hugely important, They don’t seem to think much of his family. He’s identified negatively as both a “carpenter” (a low-status manual laborer) and as the “son of Mary” (were they hinting at a questionable fatherhood?). In the Message translation Eugene Peterson‘s hints at the disdain of the townspeople when he translates their question as, “Who does he think he is?”
The identity of Jesus is a consistent issue in Mark. In the gospel, we hear the opinions of rulers, religious authorities, crowds, disciples, and family members. For the author of Mark, the important question keeps coming around to “who do you — the reader — say that Jesus is?” And if you do honor Jesus as a prophet (or more than a prophet), who does that make you? Does it mean new allegiances that supersede traditional country and family values? As you answer those questions, Mark is leading you into a confession of faith.
A miracle is not just an event but it is an interpreted event. It has to be recognized and interpreted as a gift from God. If Jesus is not regarded to be capable of healing, any healing that does happen won’t be attributed to him. Here in Nazareth they doubt him, they have little – if any – faith. So there is nothing to see.
The second half of the text is about the sending of the disciples, who we have only seen a few times in the immediately previous chapters: In Mark 4, they fail to understand Jesus’ parables and desperately need explanations. At the end of Mark 4 in the boat in the storm, Jesus accuses them of being fearful and lacking faith when he stills the storm. Rather then deny it, they wonder, “Who then is this?” And in the middle of the pressed-in crowd of Mark 5 they question Jesus for wondering who touched him in the crowd. Now, Jesus sends them forth to preach repentance, heal the sick, and cast out demons. Wasn’t there anyone better qualified? Jesus seems to be saying that he doesn’t call the qualified but qualifies the called. How then do we live out our faith as called and sent disciples in a world more often than not defined by unbelief?
Questions for Going Deeper: