Gospel for Fourteenth Sunday (5 July 2015)
Notes by Michael Whelan SM
He left that
place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. 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?"
And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages
teaching. (Mark 6:1-6 – NRSVCE)
Similar accounts are found in Matthew 13.54–58 and Luke 4.16–30. Luke is the only one to have the verses from Isaiah: "The spirit of the Lord has been given to me etc."
"Jesus nowleaves the Sea of Galilee to visit his hometown of Nazareth (1:9), some twenty-five miles to the southwest of Capernaum. Nearly four miles to the southwest of Capernaum, at Gennesaret, Jesus would have joined the major trade route that continued some seven miles further south to Magadan, and then west through the break in the precipitous cliffs of Arbel and up to the Horns of Hattin, where it bent southward to Nazareth. The Via Maris (Way of the Sea), as the road was known, was the main route between the Mediterranean Sea and Damascus to the north. With the change in location comes a change in the tenor of the narrative. In the preceding stories Jesus has displayed lordship over nature, demons, and death. But among his own people in Nazareth he encounters misunderstanding and rejection. Heretofore the crowds are amazed at Jesus' authority (1:22; 5:20; 6:2), but in Nazareth it is Jesus who is amazed at their disbelief. The disbelief and opposition at Nazareth prepare for the Baptist's fate before Herod Antipas (6:14–29) and for Jesus' later fate before the Sanhedrin and Pilate (14:43ff.)." (J R Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark, Eerdmans; 2002, 169.)
Nazareth is not mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures nor any other literature of the time except for the dozen mentions in the Christian Scriptures. It is an insignificant village. Reliable archaeological digs suggest a population of perhaps a few hundred. The first church to be built there was built in the time of Constantine, about 325 CE. This whole area of Galilee in which Nazareth is located did have a significant population of Gentiles. Matthew even refers to it as "Galilee of the Gentiles" (4:15).
"Any Jewish layman could address a synagogue meeting if invited by the synagogue officials (see 1:21–22; also Luke 4:16–17; Acts 13:15)." (J R Donahue, & D J Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, The Liturgical Press 2002, 183.)
Mark has already told us of the amazement of the crowds in Capernaum when they heard him teaching in the synagogue (1:22). Jesus does not seem to have been apprenticed to a rabbi – the normal way a person might become a teacher. John says there was nothing about his home life that would have accounted for his learning (John 7:15). Like his contemporaries, we do not know either where and how he came by his wisdom and knowledge. This seems to have been a particular issue for the people of his home village. "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?' And they took offense at him."
The statement that Jesus is "the son of Mary" probably carries insulting or at least disrespectful overtones. This was a patronymic culture. Are they suggesting illegitimacy? Or is it just a clumsy attempt to say he is not worthy of respect because he has no status in the village?
Whatever their reason for resisting Jesus, Mark is clear about how Jesus himself saw it: "He was amazed at their unbelief". This lack of faith is clear linked to the earlier observation that "he could do no deed of power there".
This incident follows on the two we have already meditated on in the Gospels of previous Sundays – the disciples in the storm on the lake are rebuked by Jesus for their lack of faith (4:40) and the woman with the haemorrhage is healed because of her faith (5.34).
In the Bible, faith has two interdependent themes. The first is that of confidence, the second is that of "a movement of the intelligence to which a word or signs permit access to realities that are not seen (Hebrews 11:1)". (Xavier Léon-Dufour SJ, editor, Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Geoffrey Chapman, 1967, 135.)
Both these themes come together in a deeply personal relationship. To understand something of the biblical understanding of faith, we need to go back to two particular Hebrew root words which are "dominant: āman .... (which) suggests solidity and sureness: bātah, security and confidence". (Ibid) Our English word "Amen" comes from āman.
"Amen" – āman – is repeated over and over, for example, in the collective commitment during the liturgical renewal of the covenant (Deuteronomy 27:15-26) – "All the people shall say, 'Amen!'"
Perhaps most telling of all, is the title given to God in Isaiah 65:16. Literally it is "God Amen". The word āman used here is often translated as "truth" or "faithfulness". Thus the NRSVCE translates it "the God of faithfulness".
Faith is, in the deepest biblical sense may be understood as an existential 'Yes!', an affirmation of my very existence. It is a heart to heart encounter.
Significantly enough, faith is normally spoken of with hope and love. They are three facets of the same thing – a deep communion that is both cause and effect of an equally deep confidence and a whole new way of knowing. With this confidence and knowing – and because of it – there will always also be hope and love.
We can understand the three – faith, hope and love – as manifestations of a liberated being. When I am set free in this relationship with Jesus, my best possibilities will shine.
A warning should be sounded. Faith – like hope and love – does not come by way of conquest but by way of gift. Faith is a participation in the life of the "God Amen". At our best, we are the place where God is manifest. Each person's life is potentially an epiphany. Our shining is in fact the Presence of God.
Is their effort and work in this? Certainly! But our effort and work is always facilitative. We do whatever we can to rid ourselves of obstacles to this shining forth and do whatever we can to dispose ourselves for this gift of communion. And we wait. It is like seed a farmer scatters on the ground ....
"If we take a more living and more Christian perspective we find in ourselves a simple affirmation which is not of ourselves. It simply is. In our being there is a primordial yes that is not our own; it is not at our own disposal; it is not accessible to our inspection and understanding; we do not even fully experience it as real (except in rare and unique circumstances) and we have to admit that for most people this primordial 'yes'
is something they never advert to at all. It is in fact absolutely unconscious, totally forgotten. Basically, however, my being is not an affirmation of a limited self, but the 'yes' of Being itself, irrespective of my own choices. Where do 'I' come in? Simply in uniting the 'yes' of my own freedom with the 'yes' of Being that already is before I have chosen to choose." (Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Image Books, 1968/1989, 266.)