July 4, 2021
Sunday between July 3 and July 9 inclusive
Proper 9, Ordinary Time 14
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Mark 6:1-13 The Message or Mark 6:1-13, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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Once again the Lectionary gives us two stories in one lesson.
Jesus leaves "that place" where two members of the Judean elite had received healing and new life because of their faith - because of their trust / loyalty / bonding with God in spite of their hopeless circumstances - and returns to his hometown. What sort of faith / trust will he find there?
Simply stepping forward to teach in his hometown synagogue would literally be stepping out of his - and his families - assigned place in the village pecking order. Doing so would immediately demand public, critical evaluation by those in charge of keeping people in their place.
We can see this process at work by contrasting the comments at the end of Verse 2 with those in Verse 3.
In Verse 2 the comments allude to factors that would increase ACQUIRED honour. In Verse 3, the comments refer to the factors that establish life-long, INHERITED honour.
Anyone who has ever lived in a small town will appreciate that maintaining one's social standing is fiercely protected - protecting one's own honour from being devalued; and preventing anyone else's honour from being increased (since that could mean a lessening of one's own honour).
Notice the assumption in Verse 2, that someone, somewhere, had given wisdom and power to Jesus. In Jesus' time, wisdom, power, honour, etc. were all understood to exist in a fixed, limited amount, distributed unequally, and given at birth. So any increase could only happen by being given - or taking - from someone else.
The comments in Verse 3 speak against giving increased honour to Jesus. They remind his hometown hearers of just exactly who he is. The reference to "son of Mary," with no mention of his father would not so subtly remind everyone of the shaming gossip about Mary being pregnant before getting married. And who would believe the story that Mary tells about who the real father is? Poor thing.
Even the reference to being a carpenter would also be a reminder that in Jesus' time, carpenters often had be away from home in search of work - and this made them less than desirable as sons, husbands, fathers, and town residents. Who knows what happens when people are not under everyone's watchful eye?
Jesus responds to this insult against his and his family's honour by quoting an equally insulting proverb. In effect saying, "Those who should know me best but don't are doubly blind / stupid."
Verses 5 and 6 emphasize the point made earlier in this Chapter: faith / trust / bonding with God are crucial to healing. Without them, even Jesus cannot perform miracles.
Verses 7 to 13, (and 30-32) give a mini-manual in mentoring, and mission preparation, action, and reflection.
Sending the 12 out in pairs is both a way to test their readiness for ministry, and also a way to make his ministry more widely available. Sent in pairs both because it is dangerous to travel alone, and because a partner helps provide encouragement and accountability. The minimal possessions of these itinerant ministers was normal practice in Jesus' time.
Notice that Jesus delegates his authority over evil spirits to them (Verse 7). They also took up his ministry of calling people to repent and believe the Good News of God's Kingdom (See Chapter 1, Verse 15), and of healing (Verses 12 and 13).
Shaking the dust off your feet is reference to a common way of showing one's disapproval, of completely rejecting and disassociating oneself from the other. It too was a highly insulting gesture - somewhat like "giving the finger" today.
The reference to not being welcomed is a reminder of what has just happened in his hometown, and also a fore-shadowing of what lies ahead.
These are not easy, "good news," stories. They are not dramatic or miraculous. They are sobering reminders of how our own familiarity - our own comfort zone - with Jesus may blind us to the full reality of Jesus; and of how being in settled ministry with all of its possessions and property keeps us from travelling lightly with our sole focus on our purpose for ministry.
Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, pages 168-170; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See link below.
Mark 6:1-13 (NRSV)
1 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 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! 3 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.
4 Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them." 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Mark 6:1-13 (The Message)
1 He left there and returned to his hometown. His disciples came along. 2 On the Sabbath, he gave a lecture in the meeting place. He made a real hit, impressing everyone. "We had no idea he was this good!" they said. "How did he get so wise all of a sudden, get such ability?"
3 But in the next breath they were cutting him down: "He's just a carpenter—Mary's boy. We've known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?" They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further.
4 Jesus told them, "A prophet has little honor in his hometown, among his relatives, on the streets he played in as a child." 5 Jesus wasn't able to do much of anything there—he laid hands on a few sick people and healed them, that's all. 6 He couldn't get over their stubbornness. He left and made a circuit of the other villages, teaching.
7 Jesus called the Twelve to him, and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition. 8-9 He sent them off with these instructions:
"Don't think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple.
10 "And no luxury inns. Get a modest place and be content there until you leave.
11 "If you're not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don't make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way."
12 Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; 13 right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits.
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.