1Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! 3Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
4Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”5He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6And he was amazed at their lack of faith.
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.7Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.
8These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.9Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. 10Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”
12They went out and preached that people should repent.13They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
How do people respond when you tell them the Gospel? I’ve had all kinds of reactions. Some people have told me that Jesus did not exist, and that it’s all a fairy story. Others have said that Jesus, whilst a brilliant moral teacher, could not be the Son of God – because God does not exist. Some of my friends have told me that creation was all an accident, and that there could therefore be no “messiah.” Most surprisingly to me, quite a lot of people have commented that they thought I was an intelligent and well-educated man, and how could I possibly believe in Jesus! In this passage, we can see how Jesus responds to those people who reject his teachings. We also get a reaffirmation of the purpose of Jesus’ earthly ministry and see how Jesus tasks the apostles to spread the message of the kingdom even further.
What do you think Jesus saw as the main purpose of his ministry? Yes, he came to die on the cross to fulfill God’s plan of salvation, but there was clearly more to it than that, otherwise he would have been killed much earlier. What has repeatedly leapt out at me during this Mark Marathon is the emphasis that Jesus places on teaching. Wherever he goes, the first thing he does is teach people. He teaches at every available opportunity – in the synagogue, in towns, in the countryside and by the sea. This passage is no exception. Jesus heads back to his hometown, and the first thing Mark tells us he did there was to speak in the synagogue, and teach people about the kingdom. We see a similar response to Jesus’ teaching as that which we have seen before; the people were amazed. People had heard others teach who had received years of training, and plenty of experience, and yet they were nowhere near as Jesus. They cannot grasp that Jesus, the man whom many of them had known since childhood, who worked as a humble carpenter, and who was the son of their friend Mary, has suddenly shown himself to have absolutely remarkable speaking skills. They don’t know how to take this revelation, and end up taking offense at him. This is the response that I often get when I share my faith; people think I’m some kind of idiot who has allowed himself to be duped by a social misfit and crazed moral teacher. It’s interesting to note that Jesus got exactly the same.
How did Jesus respond to those who rejected him, who took offense at him? Mark tells us in verse five that he “could do no miracles there.” I’m sure that this does not mean that Jesus lacked the power and ability to do miracles – he was the son of God, after all! I think the key here is in verse 6, where Mark tells us that Jesus was “amazed at their lack of faith.” Faith seems to have been a vital factor in Jesus’ miracles thus far; the people whom Jesus had healed had all had faith that he could heal them if he wanted to. They all accepted without questioning Jesus’ ability to heal. It stands to reason, then, that if the people of Nazareth had no faith in him, and chose to regard him as simply a carpenter, that Jesus would not be able to do any miracles. There’s an important lesson for us here; when we pray, do we trust that God can answer our prayers? Or do we think that he probably can’t/won’t answer our prayers, but it’s worth sending one up on the off chance? Perhaps that it is the wrong attitude to have, perhaps by taking this attitude we are similar to the people of Nazareth. It is interesting to see Jesus’ response to this negative attitude; he seems to accept that he won’t be able to do any miracles, and does nothing to try to convince people that he was the Son of God. He doesn’t force his miracles on them; it is their decision to accept him as the Messiah, or to reject him as a jumped up carpenter. I wonder if we can learn from this attitude? Do we get downcast when people don’t respond to our evangelizing? Perhaps we have to accept it is their decision, and turn to prayer, praying that one day they will have a change of heart and come to know Jesus as their personal saviour.
Jesus does not get downhearted by this lack of acceptance by his neighbours, however. He knows that his mission must go on, whether or not the people of Nazareth accept or reject him. We then see him utilizing the apostles in a way in which we have not before. Up to this point, they have been shadowing Jesus, watching what he has been doing, and listening to his teaching. They’ve been serving a kind of apprenticeship. Now, though, it is their turn. They head out to preach, to heal the sick, and to expel evil demons. It is notable that this is an instruction issued specifically to the apostles, so, whilst we can learn from his orders and the apostles response to them, I don’t think we need to worry that we have yet to heal any sick people! What is worth reflecting on, though, is that Jesus wants them to trust in God’s provision for them; to trust that those people they encounter will provide for them, and look after their needs. If we’re not necessarily called to follow the apostles here, perhaps it is worth thinking about whether we fit into the other category – the people who provide for those undertaking God’s work. Do we contribute generously to our churches, to ensure that our ministers are sufficiently supported? Do we encourage and support those who feel they have been called to a specific ministry, perhaps witnessing in a university or working as a missionary overseas? Maybe we should ensure that we are supporting God’s work through our wallets.
As is usual for Mark’s gospel, there is a great deal packed into these thirteen verses. I have simply picked out three themes that jumped out at me as I read through this passage – the purpose of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus’ response to those who rejected him, and Jesus’ statement to the apostles to rely on the support of those around them when on their own ministries. Do reflect on these verses over the next few days, however, and seek out what it is that God is saying to you through this scripture!