“This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary…” (Mk 6:3)
The gospel text of today narrates to us how the people of his home town reacted to Jesus, despite what they heard and saw in Jesus: the wisdom and wonders. We too could go through similar experience of God in Jesus. We too see and hear many signs but our faith might still be weak. Their story is our story. I see three stages in the gospel narrative of today. And my reflection today will focus on these. As you listen to this reflection, I would invite you not to see the gospel story merely as an historical event that just involved the people of Jesus’ home town, but as our own lived experience today. It is about our own agony and ecstasy in the experience of Jesus.
A Sense of Wonder:
“Where did the man get all this?” (Mk 6:2)
Often, I find it enlightening to compare similar stories about Jesus in the different Gospels, particularly in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Gospel of Matthew, after his baptism and temptations, Jesus begins his public ministry with the calling of his apostles and the proclamation of his new manifesto from the mountain-top (Mt 4:17ff). Matthew mentions Nazara just in passing (Mt 4:13). Whereas in Luke, Jesus begins his public ministry in Nazara where he makes his mission-statement using the words of the prophet Isaiah. It is interesting to note that in Mark – who does not speak about the birth and childhood of Jesus, and who actually narrates the events in a hurry – Jesus appears in his home town only in chapter 6. In other words, Jesus is already popular in other areas. “And his reputation [had] spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside” (Mk 1:28). Against this background, Jesus’ appearance in his home town and the subsequent rejection by his own people would have been really heart-breaking for him.
An interesting detail is that the people of his home town do not reject him down right. They consider the facts. Jesus now is not the man they had previously known in the past thirty years. He is different now. Something has happened to him. And they wonder, “Where did the man get all this?” But the pity is that that sense of wonder does not translate into a deeper experience of him as he is right now. They are too much bogged down by his history. And Jesus does have an interesting, mysterious history. They want to examine the facts further.
The Statement of Facts: “This is the carpenter, surely… (Mk 6:3a)
They say, “This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joset and Jude and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here with us?” (Mk 6:3a). This statement of facts has many intriguing elements that are worth examining. To begin with, it is a statement about the historicity of Jesus: his profession, his genealogy, and his kith and kin. It could be just a way of saying: after all, we know him! But I would like to draw your attention to the expression: “the son of Mary.” There are at least two significant aspects that are worth noting in this mere statement of fact:
One, in the cultural context of Jesus, it is a vulgar ridicule and offence. In that culture, as it is in many cultures even today, someone is referred to as the son or a daughter of the father. Simon bar Jonah, for instance (Mt 16:17). The word, ‘bar’ is the equivalent of bin, ole, van, wa, O’, Mac… as in cultures across the world. And usually the father’s name would follow. But the people of his home town call Jesus, the son of his mother. In other words: Jesus, who does not even know who his father is, where did he get all this from? What does that sound like! In fact, it was so awful that by the time Luke wrote his version of the story, he would make it sound more polite: He reports, “They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’” (Lk 4:22b)!
Even in this extreme offensive language there is a possible evidence for the mystery of incarnation. (This is the second point from their expression.) This statement of facts alludes to the reality that there was a mystery behind the origins of Jesus. Humanly speaking, his origin was not normal. Similar expressions are there in other Gospels. In the Gospel of John, first of all, the leaders of the Jews are aware that the Christ when he comes no one will know where he comes from (in Jn 7:27), and then, in their conversation with the blind man who was cured by Jesus, they say, “we know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this man, we don’t know where he comes from.” And the blind man points out to the irony in their statement as he says, “That is just what is so amazing! You don’t know where he comes from and he has opened my eyes! (Jn 9:29-30). That is why, the Evangelist Matthew when he concludes his version of the genealogy of Jesus, he would say, “and Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary; of her was born Jesus who is called Christ” (Mt 1:16).
This implied-knowledge could lead someone to faith in Jesus. But as for the people of Jesus’ home town, it leads them to rejection.
Rejection: “And they would not accept him.” (Mk 6:3b)
Sadly, “they would not accept him.” What is Jesus’ reaction to this? He is resigned to it. Their rejection seems not a real surprise to him. He gives them a one-line feedback, and still performs a few miracles. But “he was amazed at their lack of faith.” After all, already in Chapter 3 of Mark, Jesus has had some bad experience with his own relatives. They had failed to understand him. In fact, they had wanted to take control of Jesus because they say, “He is out of his mind” (Mk 3:21). So, after his rejection in his home town, Jesus continues to tour round the villages, teaching.
Jesus goes about his mission of forming a new family (Mk 3:31-35). He had also previously said, “Who are my mother and my brothers? And looking at those sitting in a circle round him, he had said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.”
And what is the meaning of “doing the will of God”? Is it not being open to see the signs in our lives? Is it not being open to the plan of God for humanity and our own personal lives? Is it not being ready to commune with him? To commune with HIM! To be part of his family!
When you look at how people responded to God in the Old Testament the picture is pretty bleak. Very often they did not respond in faith to God’s word. Each time we see a faithless response on someone’s part to God’s word we also see that in the long term it brings its own punishment. It really doesn’t pay to go against God even if at the time it seems to be great fun. And we also see that it pains God when we do not respond to his word and reject it.
The faithless response to God began with the first couple. Eve disbelieved God and believed the serpent instead and ate the fruit of the tree. The punishment it brought on Adam and Eve was death instead of immortality and banishment from the Garden of Eden. Sin continued to grow so much that the world was full of wickedness. Only one family was good, Noah’s family, and they were saved from the flood. We see the pain the rejection of God’s word caused him; in Gen 6:6 we read, “God regretted having made man on the earth and his heart grieved.” It was like a new creation after the flood but once again sin began to increase and eventually people’s pride led to disaster, this time they were divided into different languages after the tower of Babel. Unfortunately this faithless response to God continues right through the Old Testament. You would think that after the Miracle of the Sea at the Exodus, as the people left Egypt on dry ground where the sea had been, they would respond in faith. But no, when the first trial came they complained and wanted to return to Egypt. Then when they entered Canaan, the Promised Land, after a while they began to ask for a king over them. It was a lack of trust in God’s leadership of them. Again this brought a punishment because with only a few exceptions most of the kings of Israel were not good leaders and their country sank lower all the time. God continually called prophets to speak his word to them but unfortunately only a handful listened to his prophets. It is no wonder that in the first reading today God called the Israelites a set of rebels (Ezek 2:5). A great punishment befell them, they were captured and taken as slaves to Babylon for about 50 years. They saw it as a punishment for sin.
That rejection of God’s word continues into the New Testament. Before Stephen was stoned to death he said to his listeners, “You stubborn people with your pagan hearts and pagan ears. You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do.” (Acts 7:51) As they stoned Stephen a young man named Saul watched. It would take a blinding light and revelation from heaven before Saul could accept the word of God. Luke 19:41 tells us that as Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time he cried because they did not recognize the time of their salvation. In the Gospel today (Mark 6:1-6) we see the people of Nazareth rejecting Jesus. They made up every excuse to reject him, they know his mother and they know his cousins. In the Gospel text it says they know his brothers James and Joset and Jude and Simon and his sisters but we understand this to mean his cousins. In the language of that time anyone in your clan would be called your brother. Remember that since the early centuries of the Church we have believed that Mary was ever-Virgin. The people of Nazareth made up every excuse to reject Jesus, they know his mother and his cousins. It is sad but true that sometimes someone who has rejected the word of God will make up any excuse in order not to open his/her heart to God. Again in Nazareth the rejection of God brings a punishment; Jesus could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people. He was amazed at their lack of faith (Mark 6:5-6).
There is an independent streak in humanity, wanting to go it on our own without God. It is really an element of pride that is in humanity, thinking that we are God and forgetting that we are God’s creatures and not God. But the Bible teaches us that each time humanity tried to go it on its own without God we only hurt ourselves. It really doesn’t pay to go against God even if at the time it seems to be great fun. And we also see that it pains God when we do not respond to his word and we reject it. And what is sad is that very often it seems that people were actually blind to the fact that they were turning their backs on God. If they were blind to the fact that they were turning against God that begs the question, “Could we also be blind to the fact that we are in some way turning our backs on God?” I see our first reading (Ezek 2:2-5) and Gospel today (Mark 6:1-6) calling us to repentance. I think we could say that since the time of the flood there has never been a time with so much sin as our time. If we are proud we will say that we have no sins and we’re okay, but if we have humility we will see into the depths of our soul and recognize our poverty before God and our need of his redemption and salvation and healing. Jesus is always waiting to respond to us, to make us new and whole. Paul says in one of his letters that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). In Phil 2:5 Paul writes, “Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus.” In Nazareth Jesus could work no miracles because of their lack of faith. We pray for the grace to respond to God’s word in humility and lay aside our pride so that Jesus can work miracles in our lives.
Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.