1 He departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! 3 Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” 5 So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith. (Mark 6:1-6)
Context. The three miracles in Mark 5 demonstrate the divine powers evident in Jesus’ miracles. Jesus overcomes the life-destroying powers of demonic possession, chronic illness, and death. Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman sought Jesus’ help because they had faith in what they had heard about him. Their faith forms a striking contrast to the reception Jesus receives in his hometown. His ministry there begins as did his initial ministry in Capernaum. Jesus astonishes those gathered in the synagogue with his teaching and healing (vv. 1–2; Mark 1:21–28). Readers might expect an example of healing or exorcism to follow as in Capernaum, but it does not.
As Perkins [591-2] notes: “Jesus’ natural family were excluded from the circle of believers in an earlier episode (3:21, 31–35). That episode establishes the contrast between the Twelve, whom Jesus chose to be with him (3:14); the natural family of Jesus (3:21, 31); and the wider circle of Jesus’ followers, his new family, those who do the will of God (3:35). Jesus’ return to Nazareth, with members of his new family (the disciples; v. 1) raises the question left open in the earlier episode: Will those with familial and social ties to Jesus believe?”
In a similar way, the first major section of Mark (1:14-3:6) concludes with rejection by Pharisees and Herodians. They conspire together to destroy Jesus. Increasingly in Mark, those who reject Jesus are closer to him: First the Pharisees and Herodians, then the people of Jesus’ hometown. Finally, his own disciples will betray him, desert him, and deny him.
The rejection of Jesus at Nazareth presents a strong contrast to the two miracles that preceded it (5:21-43). The healed woman is told, “Daughter, your faith has made you well” (5:34). Jairus is told, “Do not fear, only believe” (5:36). However, the hometown people have no faith (apistia, v. 6 — also used in 9:24 — “I believe, help my unbelief”). Jesus is unable to do many works of power (dynamis — v. 5, also in v. 2) — although he does some. The relationship between faith and works of power is a key element of the encounter.
The surprising contrasts lie not so much in his town’s rejection of him (“A prophet is not without honor … ,” v. 4) as in his discouragement and ineffectiveness in their midst: “So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people. He was amazed at their lack of faith” (vv. 5-6). Up to this point people have always been amazed and fearful in Jesus’ presence. Here Jesus is amazed at them and at the lack of faith he finds in Nazareth. Mark’s readers, no matter how familiar they are with Jesus, might well evaluate the depth of their faith in him in order to allow him to be as effective as he wants to be in their midst.
Fr. George, thank you for your word in today’s Mass about the freedom to love. It reminded me of a definition I heard long ago that said something like “Freedom is not so much about the right to do what we want, but the power to do what we ought.” I’ve forgotten where I originally heard it, but it’s always stuck with me.