“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!
Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.