6 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
What to do with this educator’s commentary
This commentary invites you as a teacher to engage with and interpret the passage. Allow the text to speak first. The commentary suggests that you ask yourself various questions that will aid your interpretation. They will help you answer for yourself the question in the last words of the text: ‘what does this mean?’
This educator’s commentary is not a ‘finished package’. It is for your engagement with the text. You then go on to plan how you enable your students to work with the text.
Both you and your students are the agents of interpretation. The ‘Worlds of the Text’ offer a structure, a conversation between the worlds of the author and the setting of the text; the world of the text; and the world of reader. In your personal reflection and in your teaching all three worlds should be integrated as they rely on each other.
In your teaching you are encouraged to ask your students to engage with the text in a dialogical way, to explore and interpret it, to share their own interpretation and to listen to that of others before they engage with the way the text might relate to a topic or unit of work being studied.
Structure of the commentary:
Text & textual features
Characters & setting
Ideas / phrases / concepts
Questions for the teacher
Questions for the teacher
Meaning for today / challenges
Church interpretations & usage
The World Behind the Text
See general introduction to Mark.
The world of the text
Text & textual features
The first half of Mark’s Gospel leads to the unfolding of a profound question “Who is this person Jesus?” Chapter 5 contributes to the answer by recounting several healing miracles, as Jesus moves around the region of Galilee. He exorcises the Gerasene Demoniac, heals the woman with the haemorrhage and raises Jairus’ daughter from death (Mk 5:1-43). These stories reflect the emerging belief in Jesus as like no other, with extraordinary ability to heal, preach and teach. They also account for the crowds he was attracting and his spreading fame throughout the region.
The final answer to the identity of Jesus will come in his question to the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” and Peter’s declaration, “You are the Messiah (Mk 8:29).”
This passage, situated at the beginning of chapter 6, is a simple narrative with a beginning, middle (in which there is a problem) and a not very satisfactory conclusion. Three features of the writing give the passage shape and strength.
- The short sentences, used to give urgency and drama to the narrative,
- Direct speech to effectively question who Jesus is.
- The weak conclusion: are the ‘many’ in the synagogue convinced? Satisfied? We do not know.
Characters & Setting
In this passage Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth, in Galilee. The words sabbath and synagogue are a very deliberate reference to two particular settings important to the passage: a particular day and a particular place, both indicative of this day on which Israelites celebrated the Law and their covenantal relationship with God.
He began to teach in the synagogue…
Jesus begins to preach to this community and immediately those present begin to question his wisdom and authority. They know him and make statements that establish his kinship and status; their tone is condescending.
‘And they took offense at him.’
The word translated as enviously offended is literally “scandalised” which, as noted earlier (4:14-20) referred to a rejection of his wisdom and the meaning of his deeds of power. His community, those who knew him were:
* unwilling to be open to the vision and the way of Jesus,
* reluctant to see that things could change and people’s responses to life be different,
* stubborn in their refusal to allow God to be the God of “enough for all” and of abundance; a rejection of his Kingdom message
John McKinnon, Mark 6:1-6.
Many who heard him were astounded
Mark does not tell us what Jesus said. Rather he focusses on their reaction to it. Angry and shocked by his words the community were completely unwilling to believe that he was credentialed to deliver such teaching. Jesus recognises their disbelief and refers to the prophet Ezekiel (Ez 2:3-8) who also struggled against stubborn and hardhearted communities who refused his message. “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house (Mk 6:4).”
This verse accentuates a shift in Jesus’ life and ministry, moving from his ‘family’ and hometown kin to his new family – the community of believers – including the disciples. Jesus’ power through healing, preaching and teaching, could only be effective when worked in the context of belief. Jesus was unable to heal many who were afflicted in Nazareth because they failed to believe.
For Mark and his first-century community, the passage reminds them that belief in Jesus and the road to discipleship was not going to be easy. From the beginning it had been hard – even for those who should have known Jesus best. Under Roman rule the Hebrew people faced persecution and death. Discipleship would take persistent faith in the wisdom of God, great courage, and a willingness to respond to the relationship which Mark invited them to.
‘And he was amazed at their unbelief (Mk 6:6).’
Mark reflects a sadness for Jesus that many who were closest to him in his life would fail to see the vitality and vision of the message that meant so much to him. It reinforced the reality for those on the road to discipleship that not everyone, including those closest would listen or believe.
Questions for the teacher:
The world in front of the text
Questions for the teacher:
Please reflect on these questions before reading this section and then use the material below to enrich your responsiveness to the text.
Meaning for today/challenges
Is it hard to believe that the people who grew up next door, can be worthy of greatness? We might ask ourselves, are we more likely to believe celebrity prophets rather than those we are closest to? What do we consider our small-town Nazareth?
Is Mark trying to remind us that the Messiah came in a way that was unexpected? How could a carpenter from Nazareth possible be a worthy Messiah? How do I expect Christ to rescue and deliver me from my challenges? The Messiah was supposed to rescue the Jewish people from persecution, a mighty warrior who would crush their enemy. To be preaching a message of love, justice, service and non-violence was just not what they were expecting from their Saviour King.
The passage also reminds us that God can be present to us in ways and in people we least expect. It reminds us that in humility we can catch a glimpse of God’s glory and must be ready to stand up for the message we believe and hold strong to the ground of our faith. When we are faced with people questioning our identity and who we are, we can remember that these same questions were asked of Jesus. It was no doubt a painful realisation, but he didn’t lose sight of the message he wanted to give to those who would listen and believe. His actions were the ultimate vindication of his mission.
The Markan community of the first century was severely persecuted at the hands of the Roman Empire. Mark’s portrait of Jesus showed them that rejection, humiliation and suffering are a human experience – known by even the Christ himself. While our threats are not theirs, disappointment, failure, and suffering are also a reality for our times, locally, nationally and internationally.
At a personal level, what is necessary for me to surrender to an understanding that Jesus can deliver me the grace that I desire to thrive in my experience of life? Do I believe he is truly the Messiah? Progress in spiritual life is the ability to recognise God in the ordinary or every day. Mark is reminding his readers and us that the we should seek God’s presence in all things, even where we least expect.
These Readings focus on the theme of ‘the rejected prophet’ suggest that the messenger must stand firm to the power of their holy message when faced with rejection.