Preached: Sunday 5th July 2009, Good Shepherd, WB
Mark 6: 1-6
This passage in Mark’s gospel is a tricky little number to get to grips with. Everything about it is just plain wrong, and at first glance should deeply unsettle us. In fact, as we gaze long and hard at it we should be unsettled more and more.
This passage tells us as a lot about Jesus, and even more about ourselves in our relationship with Him. If you’ve been struggling in your intimacy with Christ, then Mark 6:1-6 might just hold some answers for you.
The story is set in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Nazareth is not a big place. It’s a tiny back end of nowhere sort of village. In fact when Nathanael (Bartholomew in the other Gospels) was called to follow Jesus, his response was “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). So you want to be thinking of quiet rural village where everyone knows everyone else’s business intimately across many generations, rather than a bustling metrolpolis. In this setting EVERYONE knew who Jesus was. They’d seen him grow up. They’d eaten meals with him, maybe he’d slept over at their houses as a kid. They’d watched him grow through childhood into adolescence, known his mum and dad, and more importantly, known the questions and the gossip surrounding his birth. “oooh, that Mary – she’s looking bigger than last month and she’s not even married. That Jospeh will never have anything to do with her now!” And then the continuing gossip surrounding them when they finally return from their trek to Bethlehem and excursion into Egypt. They return with a young boy called Jesus, Yeshua and try to settle into the community once again. People whispering , gossiping, wondering what went on.
Mary and Joseph treasuring the events around Jesus’ birth in their hearts (Luke 2:19) and perhaps not letting on just what had happened.
So in his home town Jesus was known for his questionable beginnings perhaps. It seems that by his middle childhood he was accepted because when he was lost to his parents after visiting the temple they had just naturally thought he was off somewhere with the rest of their community, among his friends and theirs (Luke 3:44).
The trouble is as he grew up Jesus was known too well … or at least his humanity was known too well.
For us, one of our problems in relating to Jesus is that we have a hard time knowing just who and what to relate to. Do we relate to Him as God – creator of the universe, awesome, almighty, majestic, …terrifyingly holy? Or do we relate to Him as man, humble, carpenter, servant, friend?
As humans I think most of us relate to Jesus more readily as the human Jesus, the one called Yeshua by his mum, “Oi, Yeshua, dinner’s ready – go wash your hands!”, “Yeshua, get down from that tree, you’ll fall and hurt yourself!”. We like that Jesus because we have a connection with him we can understand. He’s like us. He’s human. He’s normal. He’s a mate. We love him and He’s amazing, but He’s limited in who He is, because ultimately we’ve made Him in our image.
And so it is with the Nazarenes. They know Him as one of them. Yeshua is just Mary and Jospeh’s son, with a load of question mark’s around his birth.
So when Jesus begins His ministry He falls foul of their limited understanding and lack of perception. They can’t see beyond their own experiences of Him. They can’t see what is beyond, the much greater, fuller truth and so Jesus remains to them nothing more than the boy with the shadowy past.
In Mark 6 we see Jesus arriving back in Nazareth after having ministered around the Galliean villages, performing amazing miracles among people who didn’t know anything of His past, and nothing of His humanity – people who were expecting a Messiah and wondered if this might be Him. Their perception of who He was and what He might do was focussed more on the Son of God than the son of Mary. Their faith was greater than their gossip, their belief overruled their experience. Miracles happened.
So Jesus comes to Nazareth and they’ve heard of what He’s been up to. They know about the miracles, they know about the teaching, they want to hear for themselves, but yet, … but yet, “It just can’t be can it? How can it be? This is just Jesus – Mary’s son … remember? The shame of His birth – the questions, the running away to Egypt. No! This can not be the Messiah.” And so they focussed too much on his humanity and could not believe in His true identity as the Son of God, the Messiah.
They were amazed at His teaching (Mark 6:2) but questioned where his teaching came from (Mark 6:3) in the same way they questioned where He came from Himself! Note the nasty way they refer to Him in Mark 6:3
Isn’t this Mary’s son?
In Jesus’ day a son would be referred to in relation to his father, not his mother. This reference to Him being “Jesus, son of Mary” throws into question again who His father was. They muck raking deliberately because they can’t believe in anything other than the humanity of Jesus.
I wonder if we’re any different. But instead of knowing Jesus intimately like they did, and knowing his background, we know our own. In casting Jesus in our own image all too often we fall foul of our own humanity and brokenness. Jesus was never sinful, but we are. Jesus was never limited in His power, but we are. Jesus never fails in His love for us, but we fail in loving even ourselves at times.
So why would Jesus bother with us?
We read the stories of miracles and healings, but of course Jesus would never do that with us … would He?
We know the truth of who is as Messiah, but we’re not really sure we can handle anything more than Jesus as friend.
We believe He’s done amazing things elsewhere for other people, but of course He wouldn’t do that for us … would He?
Our own brokeness and questionable life leads us all too often to project onto Jesus our own limited faith. Of course Jesus CAN do amazing things we say, but will He? …No, He most likely won’t.
And then we wonder why He doesn’t.
And this is the most unsettling thing about this passage. We read it knowing full well that Jesus CAN do miracles, but in Nazareth He doesn’t. Ok, he heals a few people, as though that’s just as easy as taking out the rubbish, but He doesn’t do anything more than that! Why not?
Jesus blames it on the people’s lack of faith.
When we don’t see Jesus doing anything we dare not say it’s because of lack of faith, instead we blame Jesus. or rather we make excuses – really good theological ones probably, but ultimately the fault doesn’t lie with us does it. It’s just not in God’s will (and there’s probably a lot of truth in that). But EVERY time? Surely we do still believe that Jesus CAN perform miracles, and surely we still believe He WANTS to perform miracles. So the question is why DOESN’T He more often?
Maybe at the end of the day, we are just as guilty as His Nazarene friends and neighbours of focussing too much on His humanity and not accepting Him as God, as Lord, as Saviour, … as Messiah.
Who is Jesus to you today? Is He someone you have made in your own image, or will you allow Jesus to be the great “I am!” – the one who created you, loves you, and wants to reign in power in your life.
Yeshua – Son of God, born of Mary, God made man – crucified, buried, risen, glorified!