Belief and Rejection

jesus-apostles-endtimesThis coming Sunday is the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time in Year B. The gospel for the day comes from Mark 6 and narrates the beginning of mission for the disciples.

Some context for the gospel. The miracles of the preceding chapter in the Gospel according to Mark demonstrate his divine powers. Jesus overcomes the life-destroying powers of demonic possession, chronic illness, and death. The gospel two weeks prior contained the stories of Jairus/his daughter and the women with the hemorrhage. Each account tells of an imperfect faith, yet enough faith that God enters into their lives in a way that is healing and ultimately life-giving. For Jairus’ daughter, it is the restoration of life; for the woman with the hemorrhage it is being restored to the fullness of life as her illness will no longer keep her from living life to its fullness in this lifetime. The miracles, viewed together even as they as told together, are the vestige of Jesus’ fuller mission: that all might have life eternal, free from death, and have life completely. Jesus is forming new family bonds, no longer centered on blood relationships, but on faith and those willing to act on that faith.

Their faith forms a striking contrast to the reception Jesus receives in his hometown. 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) raised the question left open in an earlier episode: Will those with familial and social ties to Jesus believe?” Mark 6:1-6 answers the question: no

The rejection at Nazareth is intimately related to the subsequent mission of the Twelve (6:7–13). The tension between faith and unbelief permeates both accounts. Moreover in 6:11 there is a distinct indication that the disciples will also experience rejection. Mark the Evangelist shows that unbelief is the context in which the Christian mission advances and that rejection is an experience common to the Lord and the Church. This point had immediate relevance for the gospel-writer’s own hard-pressed community. It is probable that he recognized in the juxtaposition of rejection and mission a pattern confirmed in the rejection of Jesus by his own people, climaxed by crucifixion and resurrection, which created the apostolic mission.

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