Based on Mark 6:1-29
Mark 6 feels like there’s been a transition of sorts in Jesus’ ministry. Before this, he had crowds rushing to him, begging and pleading for healing and good news. That’s not to say that he didn’t encounter opposition – he did many times. But in what might be considered a modern twist on Scripture, it has felt like Jesus was seen as a social media influencer who has a pretty good following.
But then Chapter 6 comes along, and things are about to get real. Jesus preaches in his hometown and there are plenty of voices who raise questions against Jesus’ status and legitimacy with statements that sound like “he seems to have forgotten where he came from…”. I think the most amazing part of this section is verse 6 where is says “and he was amazed at their unbelief.” Ouch. That’s a pretty stinging critique of the people he probably knew pretty well – people he probably grew up around.
Mark’s telling of this rejection in Nazareth is also told in Matthew and Luke, with some variation. Luke tells us that the people were so upset that they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff at the edge of town. Matthew tells us a story similar to what we have in Mark. The summation of this story is about Jesus being rejected in the place we might least expect it – home. At the beginning of Mark 5 the people of Gerasene, a Gentile town, beg and plead with Jesus to leave after he cures the demoniac. But here, he is rejected not because of causing a stir with a miracle, but because he doesn’t fit the expectation of who he is supposed to be in society according to the people of his hometown. In a way, Jesus’ very presence upsets status quo yet again.
From that episode, we hear about Jesus sending the twelve out with authority over unclean spirits. This is Jesus empowering his closest followers with some of the same authority that he has been given. It draws us back to Jesus in Gerasene where he had authority over Legion and is rejected by the townspeople and leaves. Jesus instructs his disciples to shake the dust off of their feet as a testimony against them if that place doesn’t welcome the disciples and refuses to hear them. This is essentially what Jesus did in Gerasene. Here Jesus is doing something unexpected again. When rejected, he doesn’t tell his followers to curse or condemn the place or people, but to walk away. Jesus’ focus is invitational. And the reality is that not everyone will accept the invitation nor want it. Some are just too attached to the way things are, telling themselves that they either benefit from how things are (although they don’t), or because they are too afraid of what change might mean and the uncertainty that it might create.
In the last portion of this week’s Gospel reading we get a flashback to the killing of John the Baptist. In a way, what Mark is doing here is playing with time. Mark 6:14-16 is set in a present time setting, in terms of when the story is taking place (right after the disciples are sent out). Here, Jesus is confused with John by the civil authorities. There are rumors about Jesus being John resurrected – sounding much like what we would consider a conspiracy theory today. And then Mark takes us back in time to the story of how John was beheaded for being faithful. And by doing so, Mark may be pointing to the future. Recall that back in Mark 1:7, John is recorded as saying, “He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” It could be argued that Mark is giving a preview of Jesus’ fate – though not the same exact method of death. Since Jesus is more powerful than John, by John’s own admission, then how much more “appropriate” it is for Jesus to suffer a worse death than John.
When we hear about John’s death at the close of this section, we hear about his disciples claiming John’s body (presumably they had to get permission from King Herod) and burying John in a tomb. This is another foreshadowing of sorts awaiting Jesus. At the end of Mark 15, after the crucifixion of Jesus, one of Jesus’ followers (Joseph of Arimathea), goes to someone else in charge (Pilate), requests Jesus’ body, and goes and buries him.
Questions for reflection:
- Mark chapter 6 throws a wrench to what so many would expect about Jesus in a variety of ways. What assumptions and expectations have we put on Jesus? How about his church? On each other? What are these assumptions and expectations based on? How is Jesus smashing those expectations in unexpected ways?