[June 6, 2010] With this short story about Jesus coming to His hometown of Nazareth, Mark (as he records Peter’s retelling of the Gospel) concludes the section that began in 3:20, when people from Jesus’ hometown tried to apprehend Jesus because they thought He was beside Himself. For this Mark (Peter) follows Matthew. For 4:35—5:43 he had been following Luke (see Luke 8:22-56). Now he turns to Matthew 13:53-58 which follows the parables (related in Mark 4:1-34). Luke tells this story a little differently and actually uses it to narrate the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 4:16-30).
When Peter (through Mark) tells the story, he follows Matthew closely though he adds a few details of his own. The disciples follow Jesus to Nazareth; it was the Sabbath when Jesus taught in the synagogue; the people’s three questions (two in Matthew 13:54 and one in 13:56) are rephrased and grouped together; Jesus is the carpenter rather than the son of the carpenter; Jesus adds that a prophet is dishonored also by his relatives; He lays hands on a few of the sick and heals them; and He marvels because of their unbelief.
In Mark 1:16—3:19 the Gospel according to Mark shows the coming of the Messiah and Son of God as the Isaianic Servant of YHWH, laboring faithfully as opposition to Him grows. In the end He gathers His disciples and appoints the Twelve to be His eyewitnesses whom He will later send out (apostellō), which He does in 6:b-13 (next).
Sandwiched between these stories about the selection of the Twelve and their sending is our present section (3:20—6:6a). This section begins and ends with the rejection of Jesus by His own people (His patrida). This rejection becomes emphatic with the accusation by the scribes from Jerusalem accusing Him of having Satan within Him. In between this sandwich (or frame) are the two sections showing His wisdom (4:1-34) and His works of power (4:35—5:43). The frame shows us how to interpret the meat of the sandwich. 3:31-35 is the story of Jesus’ immediate family (mentioned again in 6:3) coming to see Him, which elicits from Jesus the question, “Who is My mother and siblings?”
The parables in 4:1-34 answers the question about why some people do not “get it” while a select few do. The stories in 4:35—5:43 tell parabolically (not discounting their actual occurrence) how the Gospel will go out to the Gentiles (4:35-41) and be received by a few (5:1-20) at the same time that the faithful of Israel are continuing to wait for Him (5:21-24a) while a remnant of them “touches” Him and believes (5:24b-34). In the end, He will raise Israel from the dead spiritually, in spite of its current scoffing (5:35-43). In other words, this section expands on the question of who is Jesus’ real family. They are the few: the grain of wheat that falls in the good soil and grows and bears fruit, the pagan demoniac who finds deliverance in Jesus and the bleeding Israelite who “touches” Him by faith. “Who is My mother and My siblings?” Looking around at those sitting in a circle around Him He says, “Behold My mother and My siblings! For whoever does the will of God, this one is My brother and sister and mother.” The will of God is to put our faith in Him as our Savior and Master.
Those who do not “belong” are those who may be acquainted with Him—those familiar with His humanity (His hometown folk) and who have studied His works (the scribes of Jerusalem)—linked together by their prejudice, their judging Him on the basis of the known. The parables describe others who either do not hear (4:15), cannot commit (4:17, 19), or who misappropriate (4:32). In 5:16-17 we are confronted by Gentiles who are more concerned about their financials than in anyone’s deliverance and, in 5:40, Jews who have given in to despair. The final story returns us to those who reject Jesus because of their familiarity with Him.
People Are Impressed (Mark 6:1-2)
Who are the home folks? They are those who have been familiar with Jesus from His childhood and have seen Him grow up. They do not see Him with the same intimacy as His mother, who sees Him with the eye of faith. No, theirs is the eye of flesh. In this regard, they are no different than the many today who would examine the historical Jesus and insist that Jesus is simply a remarkable man of His times (interpreted according to the current academic/intellectual fads—Jesus the Bourgeois, Jesus the Marxist, Jesus the Progressive, etc. on the one side, and Jesus the Sage, Jesus the Gnostic, Jesus the New Age Mystic, etc. and on the other). They are also no different than the many today who identify Jesus with the icon of their religious cult or social fraternity—i.e., the traditional Jesus of the imperial and state “churches” and denominational and “folk” Christianity. In the one case the familiarity is with the so-called “historical” Jesus, and in the other case the familiarity is with the time-worn “myth” of Jesus. In both cases Jesus is seen with the “eye of flesh.” He is a soulical construction at the mercies of the powers of the age, the “age of this world” (Ephesians 2:2).
Jesus can only be known with the eye of spirit, that is, immediately by means of the direct revelation of God (see 1 Corinthians 2:14 and Matthew 16:17 for starters). This is a perception that is mediated by the Gospel but while mediated is not identical with the words that represent Him. The words point. The spirit beholds without cognition that to which the words point. It does this only through an immediate intuition which comes by an innate yet utterly transcendent divine light. We can speak accurately with words only when that of which we speak is already known spiritually. Otherwise, the limitation of words necessarily leads to categorical errors.
Nevertheless, those who see their familiar Jesus are at first impressed. They are impressed with His wisdom and His supernatural powers. They can add what He gives them to what they already have. They can become more wise, and His powers can be useful, helping them accomplish what they had wanted to do. Whether Jesus is the wandering-philosopher or the social-activist or the faith-healer, His hometown folks at first think He is remarkable. They are—at first—“astounded.”
Then They Are Bored (6:3-4)
Eventually, they may ask, “Where did this man get these things?” We can trace His sources. He is human after all. We saw Him grow up. We can contextualize Him. Things do not come from nowhere. Jesus too is a product of His times, however remarkably He crystallizes what is the best of those times. He may have stumbled upon one or two original insights, but in the end, nothing is original. Everything is a social construct (as in post modernism) and is part of the fabric of the social milieu, playing its particular role within the dynamics of power. As a social activist, Jesus was responding to the socio/economic/political pressures of the times distilling the best insights of His religious background and chucking the rest. Even viewed as a faith-healer, Jesus was one among many Jewish faith-healers, all of whom eventually could be compared to pagan magicians. What was remarkable about Jesus was the ingenious way He combined these factors and influences to become a truly unique phenomenon.
But in the end, this Jesus is still relative to everything else. In the big picture, He may not even be that unique. Indeed, He is only as great as our own imagination allows. He is only as great as what our imaginations can construct with the “facts” that we think are relevant for the picture we want to build. Jesus is a prisoner to the known.
Or rather, we are imprisoned by what we already know. What we already know blinds us to what is unknown. The mind cannot grasp what is truly unfamiliar. It always tries to know using the categories with which it is familiar. “The soulical (psychikos) man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he is not able to know them because they are discerned spiritually (pneumatikōs)” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Eventually, unless other psychological or social factors impel us, we tire of Jesus and He becomes boring to us. We become scandalized by Him. His claims are too outrageous, too excessive. This is what has happened and is happening within American culture, both academic and popular. It is also what happens to us individually. The particular claims of Jesus no longer make sense within the generalized picture. We lose our taste for Him. Our enthusiasm wanes. Eventually, we reject Him or keep Him at a safe distance—a continuing interest but no longer compelling.
We are blind, in other words, able to see the representations that our minds construct for us out of elements with which we are familiar, but utterly unable to see the reality that is in front of us. If we are not granted spiritual sight, we will continue blind (see the stories of the healing of the blind men in 8:22-26 and 10:46-52 and how this theme is expanded in between). Only, because we have been blind from the moment we began to be socialized at our mother’s breast, and because the society that envelopes us is equally blind, we do not even know we are blind. We think we can see (see John 9:39-41).
Jesus Is Amazed (6:5-6a)
Jesus was not able to do any work of power there except to lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them. The situation was frustrating because of the people’s unbelief but Jesus’ power (the power of the Holy Spirit that anointed Him) was not limited, as we can see by the fact that He still healed a few sick people. He did not exercise this power automatically but as He was led by the situation.
What Jesus is amazed at is their blindness. For Him reality does not require some form of mediation. It is simply there and He was able to see it clearly. This kind of blindness requires an obstruction. In this case, the obstruction is the mind. We are stuck in our minds, attached to its constructs. We think that the constructs which we have made are the reality which they attempt to represent. They are not, of course. But we cannot see past them because we are attached to these constructs. Whether we do it consciously or unconsciously (normally, we do this without any awareness), it is still willful on our part. This willful blindness—and thus ignorance—is what amazes Jesus.
Mark equates the people’s blindness, due to their familiarity with Jesus, with unbelief. Unbelief is not an unwillingness to accept the truth of a proposition nor is it to disagree with the meaning of a proposition. Nor is it to say that a proposition has no meaning. Unbelief is simply blindness, an inability to see as the result of an unacknowledged or unconscious unwillingness to see.
“Who Are My Mother and Siblings?” (3:33-35)
Those who belong to Jesus, and to whom He belongs, are those who see Him for who He is and give Him, His Person—their allegiance and their loyalty, or faith. Those who catch enough of a glimpse of Him to make this surrender, do so not because they fully discern spiritually who He is—the disciples demonstrate that understanding can come rather slowly—but because they found that who they encountered in that “glimpse” was personally persuasive. They give this Person their own person, and in that face-to-face relationship the interior light begins to grow. To enter into this kind of relationship to Jesus, on this basis, is to “do the will of God.”