Gospel 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 (Mark 6:1-6 – NRSV).
All three Synoptic Gospels report the rejection of Jesus by the people in his hometown – see Matthew 13:53-58 and Luke 4:16-30. John also alludes to it in the Prologue to his Gospel (1:11). Though each of the Gospel writers situates it at different points and in different ways, it is reasonable to accept as a fact of Jesus’ life that there was some kind of significant conflict with his own people. One commentary notes of this report that it is “a narrative that is deeply rooted in the historical ministry of Jesus while being freely adapted to the theologies of the individual gospels” (J R Donahue, & D J Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002, 186).
brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us: Donahue and Harrington write of this text: “The most debated historical issue surrounding this section (and 3:20–21, 31–35) is whether the brothers and sisters of Jesus were biological brothers and sisters and the other children of Mary and Joseph. Throughout church history three major solutions have evolved: (1) These were the natural children of Joseph and Mary; this opinion was held in the ancient church by Hegesippus (2nd c.), Tertullian (160–220 c.e.), and Helvidius (4th c.), and is held today by many non-Catholic scholars and recently by the Catholic scholars Rudolf Pesch (Marksuevangelium 1:322–24) and John P. Meier (A Marginal Jew 1:327–32); (2) the “Epiphanian” solution is that they were the children of Joseph by an earlier marriage; and (3) the view of Jerome is that they were “cousins” of Jesus, perhaps the sons of Mary’s sister. One or other of these latter views has been held by most Roman Catholics and by many non-Catholics too (see Richard Bauckham, “The Brothers and Sisters of Jesus: An Epiphanian Response,” CBQ 56  686–700).
“None of these views would necessarily compromise the doctrine of the virginal conception of Jesus, since even if the brothers and sisters were natural children of Joseph and Mary they could have been born after Jesus (see Matt 1:25). Since the sources pertinent to the discussion of this question range widely through the nt, a commentary on Mark cannot address the issue adequately, nor is resolution of this issue important to understanding Mark. In Mark the natural family of Jesus, whether they are blood brothers and sisters, stepbrothers and stepsisters, or cousins, is suspicious of Jesus as being mad, regards him as a source of shame to the family, rejects him at Nazareth, and is supplanted by the new family gathered in response to Jesus’ teaching and presence (3:31–35; 10:29–31)” (J R Donahue & D J Harrington, op cit, 188).
And they took offense at him: The Greek verb is skandalizō from the noun skandalon, meaning a “stumbling block”. In Matthew Jesus accuses Peter of being a skandalon to him – Matthew 16:23. We can understand the embarrassment of the family in Palestine at that time – to have one member step out into the public gaze as Jesus has done is deeply shameful for them. He and his behaviour are a “stumbling block” for them.
“Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house”: All four Gospels carry this aphorism in similar contexts. It is most likely something that has been said by Jesus or by someone associated with him in that context: “Its presence in all four gospels in different settings as well as its nature as an incident that would scarcely have been created by the early church confer a ring of authenticity on the rejection—especially since James, one of these relatives of Jesus, emerged as a leader in the early church (see Gal 1:19; 2:9, 12; Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; 1 Cor 15:7). Whatever the nature of the historical incident, the narrative has been enhanced by allusion to the ot motif of the rejected prophet” (J R Donahue & D J Harrington, op cit, 187).
A very wise old psychotherapist once told me that the work of the psychotherapist is to help people feel at home in the world, while the work of the spiritual director is to help people not feel at home in the world. If you are in anyway reflective, you will be aware of the “more than”. The presence of the “more than” can have varying and sometimes quite challenging effects on us. The “more than” inhabits every experience and every moment of everyday. We may not even be aware of its presence. Aware or unaware, however, it can make us restless. The restlessness might be manifest in consumerism, greed, selfishness, the “grass is greener on the other side of the fence” thinking and a host of other unreal thoughts, words and deeds. The “more than” can, in other words, if not intelligently and realistically faced, be quite devastating. But it also can save us from the superficial and even destructive life. That restlessness can give rise to wonder, humility, magnanimity and a capacity to see beyond the immediate and live at depth.
The title of “pilgrim” seems a natural fit to human beings. Life continually summons us beyond the here and now. We are always leaving our family, leaving our hometown, leaving the culture that nurtured us, leaving a form of self that we had begun to think was our “real self”. The world of people, events and things will always have a strangeness about them. Strangest of all, I must constantly face the strangeness I discover within myself.
There is great wisdom in St Mary MacKillop’s well-known advice: “We are but travellers here”. Believing or not believing that truth, makes a huge difference to how we live out our days. For one thing, those who experience themselves as “but travellers here” – who genuinely and generously embrace life as pilgrimage – will know the value of travelling light. Some of the most difficult “possessions” to relinquish to lighten the load, are possessions of the mind and heart. We should not underestimate the challenge in this. Hearing the call of the “more than” and living the consequences, can be painful – even if it does bear the rewards of authenticity.
This is a central theme in the life and teaching of Jesus, reported in all the Gospels. Thus, today’s Gospel – Mark 6:1-6 – describes what must have been a painful experience for Jesus. He returns to his hometown “and they took offense at him”. Mark suggests there is an ongoing tension here. Earlier he tells us that Jesus’ family came to get him, thinking he was crazy: “When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind’” (3:20-21). In the same place, we are told that the scribes think he is possessed.
The words of Thoreau come to mind: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Other Writings of Henry David Thoreau, The Modern Library, 1937, 290).
Where do you encounter the “more than”? What effect does it have on you?