Reflecting on Mark for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 6:1-6


According to his usual custom (Mark 1:21, 39; 3:1), on the Sabbath Jesus enters the synagogue to teach. At first the villagers seem to react in the same way as other audiences: they are astonished at his wisdom and authority (1:22; 11:18). But in this case it is an astonishment at what seems inappropriate and out of place to them. To their minds Jesus is just “one of the guys,” someone they have known all their lives. They had never seen anything extraordinary about him. All this itinerant preaching and miracle-working seems to them to be putting on airs.

Where did this man get all this? Their questions display not a sincere pursuit of truth but rather indignant skepticism. They are asking the right questions, which all the readers of the Gospel are meant to ask, but with the wrong attitude. They cannot accept that the answer might be “from God.” Wisdom and mighty deeds (dynameis) are attributes of God himself (Jer 10:12; 51:15; Dan 2:20), and Scripture often refers to the great deeds accomplished by God’s “hand” (Exod 32:11; Deut 4:34; 7:19). But the people cannot bring themselves to draw the logical conclusion of their reasoning.

The villagers deem that Jesus’ hands would be put to better use by returning to his former occupation: woodworking (the Greek word for carpenter, tektōn, can also mean builder or craftsman). Their reference to Jesus’ family members by name shows their close familiarity with his background. Only in Mark is Jesus referred to as the son of Mary, an unusual designation since Jews customarily referred to sons in relation to their fathers (Matt 16:17; Mark 10:35). It may have been a veiled slur, alluding to the fact that Mary was not yet married at the time of Jesus’ conception (see John 8:41), or perhaps simply an indication that Joseph was deceased.

Their questions suggest that they have pigeonholed Jesus: they are confident that they know all there is to know about him. So they took offense at him (skandalizomai, meaning to stumble over an obstacle). The idea that their hometown carpenter, Jesus, could be inaugurating the kingdom of God was scandalous; it did not conform to their preconceived ideas about how God would and could act. And their attachment to their preconceived ideas became an obstacle to faith.

© 2008 Mary Healy and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.