Last weekend we read chapter five from Mark’s Gospel. We were presented with two examples of tremendous faith, that of the woman suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years, and Jairus, an official of the local synagogue. The woman was cured, and Jairus’ daughter was brought back to life.
This week we’re reading the beginning of chapter six. What a contrast! Jesus travels to Nazareth, his hometown, along with his disciples. It’s the Sabbath, so they attend the synagogue service and the discussion period afterwards at which he’s invited to address the congregation. Jesus’ notoriety is no secret to the town folk.
“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!’” At first, it sounds like they’re quite impressed by him. They seem to say that they recognize that God has given Jesus tremendous gifts, wisdom, and the power to do mighty deeds. But there seems to be a block that prevents them from putting their faith in him. They know him, and his family!
A few Sundays ago we read the passage from Mark’s Gospel in which we were given a brief glimpse of Jesus’ family. Their actions suggest uneasiness with his notoriety. “They set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” In the same passage the scribes come from Jerusalem to check him out. They witness his powerful exorcisms. He’s so powerful that they ironically conclude that he’s in league with the devil, and “has an unclean spirit.” Finally, in that same passage, his mother and brothers are outside the house where he’s teaching. They’re asking for him. They most likely want to take him out of the public eye. Jesus refuses to go out to them. Instead, he asks a rhetorical question, and then answers it. “‘ Who are my mother and brothers?’ And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’”
The incident we read about this week continues this theme of resistance. Even though Jesus was exhibiting special gifts of healing, exorcism, and preaching, the people of his hometown “took offence at him.” What’s all this about? His family want to take him off the streets, the religious leadership want him silenced, and the town folk of Nazareth are offended by his powers and learning.
It’s not too difficult to understand a tension between Jesus and the religious establishment. They taught that strict adherence to Jewish tradition and the Law of Moses is essential to being a good Jew. However, during his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the people, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17) He’s telling them that he himself is the fulfillment of the Law. By observing him they can begin to see the dynamic elements of the kingdom, forgiveness of all hurts and offenses, love and compassion for everyone, friend and foe alike. He’s elevating the Law and the Prophets to a new level. Jesus is speaking of a slowly developing new world order in which God “will be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:28) The religious leadership interprets his message as an affront to the Law and their interpretation of it. They also misunderstand his preaching about the kingdom of God. They see it as a dangerous call to overthrow the Roman occupation. They’ve witnessed how the Romans squelched rebellions.
Perhaps Jesus’ family also feared his “revolutionary” preaching about the kingdom of God. They may have been concerned about his safety, and theirs, if his message became a call to arms. They also had to live with the town folk who reacted to him in a negative way. Small towns tend to suffer from all kinds of petty rivalries. They might be thinking, “Who does he think he is? He’s no better than any of us. He’s no king; he’s a carpenter! We saw him grow up, and his family still lives in this little town. Just who does he think he is, preaching to us!?”
With sadness and resignation Jesus responds to the townspeople, including his family. “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” Their lack of faith, in contrast with the woman who suffered from hemorrhaging and Jairus, inhibits his power. “He was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying hands on them.” Luke’s Gospel reveals the hostility of the people of Nazareth toward Jesus. “They drove him out of the town and led him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.” (Luke 4:20)
So we ponder the power of faith, and the consequence of a lack of faith. Faith releases the power of God. It invites healing, and restored life, and resurrection. A lack of faith binds up the power of God so that it can’t work in us.
Sometimes we think that that if we follow the rules – the commandments and the directives of the Church, or religious traditions – we’re people of faith. No necessarily so. Mark presents the woman with the hemorrhages and Jairus as special people. They step out of the ordinary crowd to engage Jesus from the depth of their souls. Their hearts are completely open to him, and because their hearts are open he can release the divine power of healing. True faith involves our whole being. Our mind, heart, and spirit move out of the ordinary.
True faith reaches out beyond adherence to laws and commandments. True faith moves beyond logic, beyond cultural and social restraints. True faith is a free-fall into the arms of God. In the arms of God anything is possible.