My Dear People,
Happy Independence Day! Thank you to all who participated in the celebration and blessing of the new chalice. Thank you again to all who contributed to it.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus returns for the first time to His place of birth, Nazareth (1:9, 24). Nazareth was a small, insignificant village of a few hundred inhabitants. In this place where one might expect the warmest welcome and most enthusiastic acclaim, He witnesses a very different response. According to custom (Mark 1:21, 39; 3:1), on the sabbath Jesus enters the synagogue and begins to teach. At first the villagers seem to react in the same way as other audiences. They are astonished at His wisdom and authority. But in this case, such astonishment seems inappropriate and out of place. In their minds, Jesus is just “one of the guys.” Someone they have known all their lives. They had never before seen anything extraordinary about Him. All this itinerant preaching and miracle-working seems to them to be “putting on airs.” Where did this man get all this? Their questions display not a sincere pursuit of truth but rather indignant skepticism. They are asking the right questions, which all the readers of the Gospel are meant to ask, but with the wrong attitude. They cannot accept that the answer might be “from God.” Wisdom and mighty deeds are attributes of God Himself (Jer. 10:12; 51:15; Dan. 2:20), and scripture often refers to the great deeds accomplished by God’s “hand” (Exod. 32:11; Deut. 4:34; 7:19). But the people cannot bring themselves to draw the logical conclusion of their reasoning.
The villagers deem that Jesus’ hands would be put to better use by returning to his former occupation--woodworking. Their reference to Jesus’ family members by name shows their close familiarity with his background. Only in Mark is Jesus referred to as the son of Mary, an unusual designation since Jews customarily referred to sons in relation to their fathers (Matt. 16:17; Mark 10:35). It may have been a veiled slur, alluding to the fact that Mary was not yet married at the time of Jesus’ conception, or perhaps simply an indication that Joseph was deceased. Their question suggests that they have pigeonholed Jesus. They are confident they know all there is to know about Him. So, they take offense to Him. The idea that their hometown carpenter, Jesus, could be associated with the kingdom of God is scandalous. It did not conform to their preconceived idea of how God would and could act. And, their attachment to their preconceived ideas becomes an obstacle to faith. Like the “outsiders” described earlier, they “look and see but do not perceive; hear and listen but do not understand” (Mark 4:12).
Jesus replies to their outburst with a proverbial saying: “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” (Luke 4:24; John 4:44). Referring to Himself as a prophet, Jesus links His destiny to that of the Old Testament prophets who suffered rejection or violence because of the unpopularity of their message. He is held without honor among His townspeople, relatives, and even His household. Their failure to accept Him is symbolic of the rejection of his people: “He came to what was His own, but His own people did not accept Him” (John 1:11; See Luke 13:34-35).
So acute is the people’s unbelief, Jesus is unable to perform any mighty deed, apart from curing a few sick people. Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not soften or omit this statement that seems to limit the power of the Son of God. Mark, instead, wishes to highlight the necessity of faith—at least a basic openness to God’s power at work in Jesus—as the proper disposition for receiving His healing. Despite the atmosphere of unbelief in Nazareth, Jesus cures a few people by his personal touch.
He is amazed at the people’s lack of faith. He shows the same emotion that characterizes others’ positive reactions to his miracles (5:20; see Luke 8:25). Few things cause as strong a human reaction in Jesus as lack of faith, or conversely, great faith. Faith is His door into human hearts, but it can be opened only from within.
Following this episode, Jesus continues His ministry in the surrounding villages. Mark emphasizes Jesus’ mission of teaching, but by now his readers understand it is a “teaching with authority” that includes healing the sick and expelling demons (see Mark 1:27).
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Vincent Clemente