A Change of Direction
Pp Mark 6:1-6
Going to Nazareth
I’ve labelled the passage which begins with Mtw 13:53 and which runs to the end of 15:20 with the title ‘Indifference and Attention’ for these opposites seem to characterise this passage - not that they’re the only themes but at least the heading didn’t appear to be too far away from what goes on within it!
For instance, here in Nazareth the people grant Jesus little respect and find that they can’t conceive of Him as doing the great works that have been reported to them, whereas Herod in 14:2 begins to regard Jesus as someone in whom the power that John the Baptist moved in as now at work, following a transfer of power from the one to the other.
The crowds also play a part in these verses (Mtw 14:13,35) so that, when they hear that Jesus is in their vicinity, they flock to Him to have their needs met. The Pharisees and scribes, also, come to Jesus though for an entirely different reason (Mtw 15:1) and continue with their attempts to undermine His authority before the people with their question.
This passage also deals with incidents which largely take place in and around the Sea of Galilee whereas, from Mtw 15:21, Jesus is recorded in different places, some of which are quite far removed from that location in which He had His home.
Therefore, it seems best to keep these verses together as one passage with a semi-coherent theme rather than to view them as records of certain incidents that Matthew’s put together for no apparent reason. That Jesus had caught the public’s attention is certain - but here we see the extent of that popularity to the end that He has to withdraw from the ministry at times because of the increasing hostility from the religious leadership and because there’s a need to be alone to rest.
A Change of Direction
With the conclusion of the teaching with parables, there now begins a slightly different tack in Jesus’ ministry amongst the Galileans and, in the next chapters, we find Him appearing in different locations outside Herod’s jurisdiction before the Gospel records His last journey to Jerusalem and His crucifixion.
For instance, we find Him travelling to the far side of the Sea of Galilee into the area known as the Decapolis in Mtw 14:34 (a place He’d previously visited but from which He’d left following the population’s request - Mtw 8:28-34), arriving in the region of Tyre and Sidon well outside what was considered to be the land of Israel in 15:21 and entering the district of Caesarea Philippi in 16:13 located within the borders of Herod Philip to the north-east of Galilee.
Mtw 13:53-58 is also the very last time we have Jesus recorded as teaching in the synagogue in Matthew’s Gospel though we may find that statement just a little deceptive for the writer only mentions the event twice in the entire book! Mark’s Gospel does exactly the same (it’s the last of eight occurrences of the word in the parallel passage), however, and the inference may be that Jesus was now finding it restrictive to teach in the synagogues and that He chose rather to be in the open country where people came to Him to receive both teaching and healing.
Mattask heads the section Mtw 14:13-17:27 as the ‘Withdrawal of Jesus from Herod’s Dominion’ but, although Jesus is definitely identified as being in places away from Galilee, there’s also the clear statement in Mtw 17:24 that He’s at home within the boundaries of Herod’s kingdom, 15:29 speaks of Jesus passing along the Sea of Galilee and the incident of 15:1-20 seems to demand a location within the region for it to have taken place because the religious leaders are noted as being present.
It’s also difficult to see how the author’s pronouncement that Jesus instructed the disciples to go to the other side of the Lake (Mtw 14:22) could mean much less than that He was currently on Galilean soil and ministering to the Jews when the command was given.
Mattask also sees the long passage as being a time when Jesus predominantly taught His disciples rather than the crowds which were coming to Him but, again, this appears to be unfounded for there are numerous places where the Scriptures speak of the crowds gathering about Him.
Matmor is even more bold in the title he gives to the section which runs from Mtw 13:53-18:35 by heading it ‘The End of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee’ though it would be better to take his words as signifying that the passage as a whole brings to a conclusion His ministry in the region rather than trying to imply that there was no ministry here at all.
From Mtw 19:1 onwards, we find Jesus in Judea to the east of Jerusalem before finally coming to the city in 21:1 and there’s the possibility that 17:22 (where it talks about people ‘gathering’) is describing the coming together of bands of Jews who were going to travel south for the Passover in Jerusalem. This is far from certain, however, and I need to do a fair bit of study when I reach that chapter to look at the possibilities. For now, there’s enough doubt cast on the interpretation of that word that to take it as indicating a pilgrim assembly is only one of many conclusions that could be drawn.
What seems fair to deduce from the incident recorded in Mtw 14:1-12 when Jesus is recorded as withdrawing from the region when it was made known to Him (Mtw 14:13) and from the opposition which had begun to fall upon His ministry from Jewish sources previously (Mtw 12:1-14,24,38) is that Jesus no longer felt compelled to spend the majority of His time within the region of Galilee and chose to vary His movements into areas where He wouldn’t have likely have expected to have been found.
Nevertheless, His ministry was still ‘to the Jew’ (Mtw 15:24) and His reason for going into these regions wasn’t that the mission to the Gentiles had begun through the Galilean Jews’ rejection but more likely that there were Jews who were settled away from the main population who also needed to be reached with the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven.
There were other reasons, it appears, why Jesus went away from the region (for instance, for the event of the transfiguration - Mtw 17:1-8 - and because Herod was paying Him unhealthy attention - Mtw 14:13) but time away from Galilee allowed there to be a ‘cooling off’ period in the lives of those who He’d previously reached.
It’s interesting that Jesus wasn’t afraid that the message would be lost by His going away elsewhere and that He was apparently confident that His teaching wouldn’t be undermined if the people who had believed in Him no longer saw Him around for a time. We like to think that there needs to be an incessant promotion of good christian teaching and of a consistent evangelical witness wherever we live in case the people we’ve encountered may forget about the demands of the Kingdom of God upon them. And we frequently insist that attendance on each and every Sunday is fundamentally a requirement for a full and complete relationship with God so that the believer might not backslide.
But Jesus seems to be unconcerned that there were certain techniques which needed to be upheld for people not to fall away. Rather, He appears to be confident that His absence will not have an adverse effect upon those who had positively responded to Him and He takes His leave of the region frequently from here on until the journey to Jerusalem to be crucified.
There are normally two passages which are closely associated with this one in Matthew and some take them both to be records of the same event. Mark 6:1-6 is clearly similar in content (even though it follows on from the raising of the ruler’s daughter from the dead and precedes the appointing of the twelve disciples).
There are numerous dissimilarities between the two but nothing would point us towards the conclusion that they aren’t different reports of the same incident - for instance, Mark 6:1 tells us that the disciples followed Him and 6:2 that it was a sabbath. The speech of those present is also rearranged when compared and even the list of the names of the brothers isn’t exactly the same in both and the order is varied.
Mark also adds the statement that Jesus did perform some miracles there (6:5) and that Jesus ‘marvelled’ because, even now, they still hadn’t faith (6:6). These are only variations in the incident and shouldn’t be construed as causing the reader to believe that they are two separate incidents.
Luke 4:16-30 is so different, however, and placed at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, that it would appear to be the record of a wholly different incident which was partially repeated later on during the Galilean ministry when He had cause to once more return.
Here, Luke records that Jesus spoke from the prophet Isaiah when it was handed to Him and declared that the passage was fulfilled (4:16-21) and, though the people in the synagogue spoke well of Him (4:22), He challenged them that they had little faith in who He was and what He’d been doing in Capernaum with illustrations from the OT which so angered them that they attempted to put Him to death (4:23-30).
In Matthew and Mark, however, we find no such attempt at murder, no details of what Jesus said in their synagogue and no lengthy discourse which pointed out that they had no faith in the work of God through Him. Instead, we find a one line statement of their state of heart (Mtw 13:57) and a summation of His ministry there as being limited in scope because of the inhabitants’ unbelief (13:58).
It seems best, therefore, to reject Luke’s passage as being a direct parallel reflecting the same incident and that both Matthew and Mark are recording a subsequent visit to His home town of Nazareth (though both writers simply state that it was ‘his own country’) when the Galilean ministry had expanded beyond all proportions and was infinitely bigger than it was in those first few weeks or months when He’d returned to them the first time as Luke records.
Jesus is giving His home town a second chance, then, at a time when there could no longer be any reasonable doubt that the work which He’d been doing was genuine, lasting and the hand of God. Unfortunately, as we shall see, they had failed to respond positively to the reports which had been brought to their attention since His first return visit.
The only one positive thing we could say about this event is that, this time, they didn’t try and kill Him!
The start of this verse represents a common type of statement which the author of Matthew uses following a long discourse in other places in the Gospel (for example, Mtw 7:28, 11:1, 19:1) and appears to be a device which was used to allow the reader to move from one passage to another with a fair degree of ease rather than for them to be clear demarcations between sections.
Matthew records that Jesus
‘...went away from there’
and pictures Him as travelling to Nazareth, His home town, but he leaves his readers wondering where the exact location was that Jesus taught the people with parables. But both Mark and Matthew note that the incident took place, rather vaguely, beside the sea when Jesus was being pressed in by the crowds and decided to be taken a short distance out from the shore in a boat from which He taught (Mtw 13:1-2, Mark 4:1).
We may perhaps be right to surmise that the area couldn’t have been far from the city of Capernaum where Jesus was living and also that Matthew’s record that the disciples came to Him when He went ‘into the house’ (Mtw 13:36) indicates that it was either His own home that’s being referred to or one of the disciples’ that was often used - such as Peter’s (Mtw 8:14).
We may, of course, be barking up the wrong tree entirely but it certainly appears likely without anything else in the text to indicate otherwise that we should place the events in this general region. Jesus, then, turns west towards His old home town of Nazareth where He’d been brought up and where He’d visited at the very start of His ministry (Luke 4:16-30), hoping that He’ll be received more positively than previously.
It would be wrong to think of Jesus as already knowing the response He would get but that He was apprehensive about what He’d find there may not be too difficult to accept as being part of His thoughts. Jesus had grown up in this neighbourhood and probably knew a fair few of the people still there, of the houses in which He’d eaten and talked through the evening and of the places as a child He’d played.
He must have longed to be able to do something for them because of the special concern He had for that village and, if there was one place He would have wanted to have been accepted, it would have been here in His home environment.
Unfortunately, it’s because He knows them so well, that they find His ministry a stumbling block to them.
Going to Nazareth
Jesus had previously visited His home town of Nazareth at the very beginning of His ministry to Israel (Luke 4:16-30) and had found then an inability in His listeners to be able to accept that He’d been given something special to do from God - it wasn’t that they failed to perceive that He was God Himself in human form moving amongst them but simply that the familiarity in which they held Him could rightly be said in this case to be a hindrance to them accepting the mighty works which they already knew were being done through Him (Luke 4:23).
It’s amazing that Jesus would ever have thought to return here seeing as an attempt had been made on His life that last time (Luke 4:29) and, personally speaking, if such a thing had happened to me, I would have stayed miles away from the village and confined it not to hear the message of the Gospel rather than to openly walk into a place where there was open hostility. Jesus also hinted at this to His disciples on their missionary trip within Israel (Mtw 10:23).
But Jesus must have had perfect trust in God the Father who would keep Him safe in the situation to which He had now gone. The anger demonstrated on this previous occasion seems to have blown over rather quickly for we have no record of an angry mob meeting Him at the town boundaries and refusing Him entry - rather, there seems to have been a cooling off period and they’re now willing to let Him back in to their village and even into their synagogue.
Jesus, then, came to His home town where He’d been brought up since His return from Egypt (Mtw 2:23) and, as I’ve said previously, this must have been the one place above all others where He would have longed for the people to heed the message of the Gospel for He must have known a great many of the people, talked and traded with them - perhaps even done work for them as the ‘carpenter’.
Now, the Nazarenes had definitely heard great reports about Him, even when the first incident had taken place (Luke 4:23) and their rhetorical question about where Jesus got ‘these mighty works’ (Mtw 13:54) implies that they had at least seen first hand something of His power - whether here in the village (Mtw 13:58, Mark 6:5) or as an eye-witness in another time and in another place.
It would appear from their coupling of miracles with the utterance of wisdom (Mtw 13:54) that we should interpret their words as implying a work which had occurred in their midst immediately prior to their question and so take Mark 6:5 as a summation of what transpired here rather than see the miraculous as occurring after the rejection of Jesus in the Nazarene synagogue.
Whether during, after or even some weeks’ prior, the point is that Jesus wasn’t asking them to believe anything that they hadn’t already seen evidence for and the reports which must have been spreading around the entire Galilean region must have also reached their ears.
It would appear that they were unable to live in the reality of what they had both seen happening with their own eyes and heard being spoken with their own ears because they only knew Jesus in the past as Joseph’s son, the carpenter who followed in His father’s footsteps (Mtw 13:55, Mark 6:3 - the Greek word here translated ‘carpenter’ is actually a more general word for a builder, carpentry being one of the aspects of this career. It follows, however, that Jesus was likely to have been much more than a carpenter and that He also functioned as a stonemason, for instance, so that He would be able to help in numerous building projects, even those at Sepphoris to the north which had been undergoing dramatic and extensive building work). The two images they held in their own minds - that of builder and wonder-worker (‘Messiah’ would be a little too strong even though this appears to be Jesus’ intention in stating that the Isaiah passage in Luke 4:18-19 was being fulfilled in their midst) - couldn’t be tied up in their own minds in much the same way as we would possibly find it difficult to believe that our local brickie was anything more than a trader who maintained our house for us and who put up the odd wall!
There are other Scriptures in the NT that speak of this problematical relationship between Jesus and those He’d grown up with, where the phrase ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ is probably too strong a statement to be applied. John 1:11 seems to record these two incidents in Nazareth when we read that
‘[Jesus] came to His own home, and His own people received Him not’
though there’s the possibility that by ‘home’, the author means His readers to infer that the entire nation of Israel is being meant. The obvious interpretation, however, is that the village of Nazareth is in mind, an indication that the writer was fully aware of the treatment He’d received.
Jesus’ statement (Mtw 13:57) that
‘A prophet is not without honour except in his own country and in his own house’
is also paralleled in John 4:43-44 where we read that Jesus, returning from Judea
‘...departed to Galilee. For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honour in his own country’
Although Jesus could have returned to Nazareth where we previously decided He was still resident even at this time (see my chronological list), He chose rather to go about all the region of Galilee, being mentioned as appearing in both Capernaum and Cana (John 4:46). This appears to have been done, therefore, for the very same reasons - that His ministry wouldn’t have reached the heights it had if He’d begun amongst His own friends and family back in Nazareth where they would have found it difficult to believe anything that God wanted to do.
In the OT, Ezekiel the prophet was told at the very beginning of His ministry to Israel in captivity (Ezek 3:5-7) - in fact, even before He’d gone to them once in the name of YHWH - that
‘...you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel - not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. But the house of Israel will not listen to you; for they are not willing to listen to Me; because all the house of Israel are of a hard forehead and of a stubborn heart’
Here the idea isn’t that familiarity with the prophet denies them opportunity to hear the words which God wants to speak but that the nation has so rejected God that they aren’t willing to listen to the words which come via God’s channel. It would be tempting to think of Jesus in just such a similar situation but we’re given no indication that this was in anyway relevant.
The problem with Nazareth seems to be solely that, because they already knew Jesus, they found it difficult to believe that God could move through Him.
The Nazarenes’ past experience, therefore, was denying them faith in the power and person of the Christ in the present. Today also, many people’s experience of ‘Christ’ (like a bad experience with the Church or unanswered prayer at a time when a relative was ill and eventually died or even being unable to accept why a ‘God of love allows famine, disease and suffering in the world’ - all of which are to do with a person’s wrong reaction to a situation and not a reflection of any imperfection in Jesus) denies them putting their faith in the person of Christ and so to be converted to Him.
‘The carpenter’s son’, ‘Mary’s son’ and ‘brother of such-and-such’ were the ways in which they knew Him and it was the only way in which they could perceive of Him. The knowledge of His normal upbringing, training and living as a carpenter was what restricted them from knowing Jesus as teacher, miracle-worker and the anointed one of God (the Messiah).
While it’s important to encourage men and women in the local church to develop their relationship with Christ and to begin to minister to men and women as God leads them, there’s nothing more valuable - on this principle - than a visiting speaker who’s not known by the congregation! They’ll probably achieve more in the fellowship’s midst than the last six months have and I can vouch for the fact that what they say from the pulpit will be readily accepted as being ‘from God’ even when people in the congregation (and sometimes the leaders themselves) have been saying the very same things but with little acceptance!
This shouldn’t be so, of course, and the example of what transpired at Nazareth should give us sufficient warning to be careful that we don’t fail to encourage ministry that’s within our own ranks.
There is a further truth here, though, for the Nazarenes were people who hadn’t known the power of God at work in their midst consistently. I stated above that they probably had seen Jesus performing signs elsewhere and that the implication in this passage is that there were a few miraculous works being done before Jesus’ statement (Mtw 13:57) but they hadn’t been the centre of Jesus’ ministry which was in and around Capernaum.
A life that has not known Jesus’ power consistently at work both within and without will find it difficult to accept it when it’s displayed before their eyes. Here is a warning to all who are called by God to minister to the ‘impotent’ Church, to the people who go from week to week unable to witness and experience the power and presence of God amongst them. Should a messenger from God go to that people, it’s very likely that they’ll be unable to perceive what happens as being the hand of God. A group of people who don’t see God move, very quickly rationalise their experience and then, if time permits, will begin to propose that a demonstration of the power of God is alien to present day christianity and, even worse, may even equate signs and wonders with counterfeit power.
Each and every church could be in any one of a number of camps and the visiting speaker, although not called to hold back, should be aware that there will be prejudices against what is both spoken and done in their midst about which there’s nothing which He can do.
But, at the very least, there will be some who receive the message and the works (Mark 6:5).
The astonishment at the works and words of Jesus (Mtw 13:54) was something which the crowds had equally marvelled at (Mtw 7:28-29, 9:8, 9:33) but, in the case of the Nazarenes, they weren’t something which led them to a belief in Jesus (that is, at least to a belief in the power at work in and through Him rather than a belief in who Jesus truly was) but to unbelief.
Miracles don’t convert and neither do words which are anointed with the power of God. There is always the freewill response of the individual to whom the words and works come that must respond positively before ‘belief’ or ‘faith’ can be truly said to be present.
Before we conclude by looking at Mtw 13:58 and Mark 6:6 and the context of the statement that unbelief prevented the Nazarenes from experiencing many miracles in their midst, we should note here that Jesus’ family was somewhat extensive, for the population (Mtw 13:55-56) say
‘...And are not His brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all His sisters with us?...’
It may be correct to accept that Jesus had just four younger brothers seeing as these are the only ones recorded but what are we to make of the phrase ‘all His sisters’? That means at least two and could even be testimony to the fact that there were three or more sisters who were recognised as being the offspring of Mary and Joseph (I have dealt with the assertion that these children were only relatives of Jesus and not direct blood brothers on my previous web page albeit very briefly).
Although Mary and Joseph had no sexual intercourse for the first nine months or so after they were married, they seem to have decided to make up for lost time once Jesus had been born and the general assumption that the family must have been poor may not be true. After all, income must have been sufficient for the family to care for at least seven children!
As I noted on my web page dealing with the chronology of Jesus’ early life, there is circumstantial evidence for accepting that there was lucrative employment close by. I wrote there that
‘...tradition holds that Nazareth was a small village, a backwater, that lacked any real prosperity at this time in its history but the place was situated only around 5 miles as the crow flies from Sepphoris which was being extensively rebuilt and which would have needed skilled craftsmen to take part in their rebuilding program (see ‘Sepphoris - An Urban Portrait of Jesus’, Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1992, pages 50-62).
‘Both Joseph and Jesus (who is also called ‘the carpenter’ - Mark 6:3) may well have actively participated in the rebuilding of this city...’
and so earned a decent enough wage. I know this is purely speculation but the traditional view that Jesus came from a poor family is not necessarily correct even though we know that the family was poor shortly after Jesus was born because the offering which Mary presented in the Temple was the one specified in the Law for the poorer Israelites (Luke 2:24, Lev 12:8). It may be that, once settled in the land, Joseph was able to earn a good enough wage to provide sufficiently well for a large family.
Finally, then, we need to turn our attention to Mtw 13:58 which reads that
‘...He did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief’
and Mark 6:5-6 which expands the event to tell us that
‘...He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. And He marvelled because of their unbelief...’
There is certainly an implication here that Jesus’ wonder-working ability was hindered by the unbelief that He encountered. This, at first glance, seems to contradict my notes on a previous web page in which I showed that the common characteristics of Matthew chapters 8 and 9 with regard to healing was more that people ‘came to’ or were ‘brought to’ Jesus than a matter of individual faith that had to be present for the person to be able to receive the gift of God. That is, although faith that Jesus could do something was demonstrated in the fact that people approached Jesus, it wasn’t that they believed firmly that they would be healed before Jesus was able to effect the healing in their lives.
I believe that the same principle is at work here, also.
Because there was a familiarity amongst the Nazarenes towards Jesus, there were very few who approached Him for healing - therefore, there were very few who were healed. Notice that Mark’s words don’t tell us that Jesus laid His hands upon the sick people of the village and that a few were healed but that Jesus laid His hands only on a few sick people and that these were healed.
The point is that a lack of faith wasn’t present in the lives of those people that Jesus attempted to heal which prevented them from receiving God’s power but that Jesus could only meet those people’s needs who came to Him for healing and that everyone of them who did received what they wanted.
It appears to me, therefore, that a individual’s approach towards Jesus was still vitally necessary for the miracle to take place and that, because they didn’t believe that God could be with Jesus, they never approached Him - except for a few people.
I quite accept that I’ve interpreted these two verses in the light of a previous interpretation and so made it fit what I’ve already laid down as a principle, but what the reader should understand from this is that, although they may personally differ in their interpretation of this passage, it’s open to an understanding that is entirely in keeping with my previous notes.
One extra point.
We should note that Matthew has recorded for us a multiplicity of responses to Jesus in His Gospel even upto this point - not even halfway through. I shan’t bore the reader with even more Scripture references but it’s worth noting that, although there’s ultimately only two camps into which a response can lead a person, there are a vast range of reasons why people fall into the camp which opposes Him. For the Pharisees it’s because Jesus represents a threat to their control over the Israelite nation but, for the Nazarenes, it’s because Jesus is well-known to them and they can’t conceive of God being able to use Him to bring healing and wisdom to the nation.
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