Musings on Mark: Jesus’ Return to Nazareth

I recently finished working through the Greek text of Mark 6:1-6a, a passage that highlights Jesus’ rejection by those closest to him. The pericope follows a “sandwich story” wherein Jesus is asked to heal a sick twelve-year old girl, is interrupted by the incredible act of faith on the part of a woman who had a menstrual issue for twelve years, and concludes with the now dead twelve-year old girl being raised to life. It isn’t clear exactly where these miracles took place (see 5:21) but wherever it is, Jesus then decides to head to his patrida – “hometown.”

The first time Jesus appears in the Gospel of Mark we are told that he had come from the village of Nazareth in the region of Galilee. Galilee was situated in northern Israel and included the towns of Cana, Magdala, Tiberias, and Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Nazareth itself was located south of the city of Sepphoris, a major locale in the region which for a short time was the capital of Herod Antipas’ piece of the tetrarchy. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus apparently left Nazareth, traveled east to the Jordan River to be baptized by John, and eventually returns to the Sea of Galilee where he calls the first disciples. He spends a great deal of time in Capernaum, a city that lay on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, traverses the Sea to arrive on its eastern shores where he takes on Legion, and then ends up back on the western shore. Now, in 6:1, he has travelled to his hometown of Nazareth.

“Where Is He Getting All This?” 

On the sabbath, Jesus and his disciples head down to the local synagogue where he begins to teach. Jesus had done this before. In the city of Capernaum he had gone into the local synagogue on the sabbath and exorcised an unclean spirit (1:21-26). The reaction of the crowd was one of amazement and it causes “his fame…to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee” (1:28). But that isn’t what happens in Nazareth. While the people are astounded, they don’t react with acclamation but with skepticism. They ask a series of four questions:

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! 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?” (6:2-3).

In other words, “We know this kid! Where is he getting all this? He’s just a carpenter!” Mark writes, “And they took offense at him” (6:3).

Jesus responds with an aphorism: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house” (6:4). Jesus had already been rejected by his family. They thought he was crazy and had come down to take him away (3:20-21), leading Jesus to declare that his true family was made up of “whoever does the will of God” (3:35). Here that rejection is expanded to those with whom he had grown up and with religious leaders that he perhaps had looked up to when he was younger.

He had returned to his hometown only to be rejected by it.

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