My first sermon in my hometown church in Zion, IL was graciously received. The people of Zion Bible Church were pleased that one of their own was studying at Moody Bible Institute. The theme of my rookie message was “labels.” The first label assigned to disciples of Jesus in Acts was “Christians” (Acts 11:25). I talked about labels on grocery items—soup can labels, cereal box labels. My driving, greenhorn point as a question was: Do the contents match the label? If we are called “Christians,” are we like Christ? Are we characterized by his life?
An older friend and mentor named David put his arm around me after that church service and said very affirming words: “John, I think the church is going to hear a lot more from you in the years to come.” I was wowed. Really? Those kind words helped set the course for my vocational life. How different for Jesus!
Mark 6:1-6 is described by one scholar as a “painful homecoming.” No arms are thrown around Jesus’ shoulders and warm words expressed. Jesus is home in his “fatherland” (tēn patrida) of Nazareth with his disciples, as the Blues Brothers would say, “On a mission from God.” These townspeople are the ones who watched Jesus grow up. They knew something, but not enough of his questionable origins as the slur “Is this not the son of Mary?” suggests. As Jesus speaks in the synagogue, disrespectful skepticism rumbles through the crowd. “Just who does ‘this man’ think he is? Where’d he get so smart and wise? Who gave him these powers?” These questions are not honest inquiries, they are cautious, demeaning rejections.
We must suppress Western individualism as we read this text. In the ANE a man was his family, his tribe, his village. Jesus was raised in an honor and shame culture. Jesus grew up as a manual laborer working with wood and stone (teknon). He and his whole family were well-known. “Is this not the carpenter?” Most of them, including his family, did not think Jesus cast a shadow of honor over the hometown. Remember when his family thought he was crazy? Mark 3:21. Religious authorities were roaming around gathering evidence that Jesus was a dangerous, perhaps demonic fraud.In Jesus’ day, a person’s destiny was determined by gender, geography, and heredity. Jesus appeared to his village as a snooty, know-it-all. How did Jesus get off thinking he was smarter and more capable than anybody else in the village? If this Markan text is parallel to Jesus’ visit to Nazareth in Luke 4, we can understand the levels of growing hostility in the crowd. This guy is just too big for his britches!
In the previous four encounters in Mark’s Gospel, people came to Jesus in faith. Jesus did mind-boggling acts of salvation, even raising a dead girl to life. Jesus’ hometown synagogue attenders, the church folk, came with sarcasm and rejection; with little if any faith at all. To demonstrate the kingdom of God and not just preach about it works best in the context of faith, of welcoming, trusting acceptance. It’s not inability on Jesus’ part to do mighty miracles; it’s the townspeople prickly unbelief that would misinterpret any work that he did. This fact “amazed” Jesus. Jesus seemed to create astonishment everywhere he went except at home in Nazareth, a 10 acre village of about 400 people. Small town, small minds. “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and family.” Carpenter or Prophet? Nazareth said, “He’s a carpenter and always will be to us.”
Some in the church still think destiny is determined by gender and heredity. Women, some say for example, must not preach, teach, or lead the local church. The “son of Mary” came to change all that. The kingdom of God rewrites all the rules in the “fatherland.”