The Gospel reading from Mark 6:1-13 occurs just after the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage and the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead. It is two different stories about faith, and that’s where the similarity ends. Unlike the two miracles that we heard about in last week’s Gospel reading, which demonstrate faith in Jesus, the first parable we heard in this passage is about the lack of faith.
By the time Jesus returned to his home town of Nazareth, the stories of his healings and miracles had spread far and wide. Even the people in his home town had heard of his popularity, so you would expect that he would have been accepted by the hometown crowd and welcomed with open arms. Unfortunately that was not the case. He was seen as the son of a carpenter or the son of Mary and Joseph, and not as the Son of God.
It would be like me being called by God to be an evangelist like Billy Graham, complete with worldwide crusades and thousands of people coming to Christ in faith. If I returned home and conducted a crusade, would I be seen as a man of God or as just the son of a local school principal and a pharmacist?
Jesus was surprised by the unbelief of the crowd, and not because he was expecting to be welcomed as a hometown hero. The lack of faith always caused Jesus to be amazed because he is all-knowing, almighty, all-present and all-loving. Why would someone not trust him? If you consider the population of Nazareth at the time of Jesus, you can understand why he was not accepted.
For starters, most of the people were poorly educated if they had any education at all. They could not read the precious scrolls in the synagogue, so the only way they could learn their religious heritage was to listen to the rabbis, who were educated. Jesus did not have the formal training required for rabbis, so in the eyes of the people, he was just a local boy who was “putting on airs”. To make matters worse, the scribes in Jerusalem spread rumours about Jesus—rumours which had also reached Nazareth. For example, in Mark 3:23 Jesus was accused of working with the devil.
A son was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps but not go beyond them. If a boy’s father was a carpenter, then the son was to be a carpenter as well-but nothing more. When the people heard Jesus teach in the synagogue, they were on the verge of applauding him, but they didn’t because they saw him as just a carpenter.
What they failed to see was that Jesus was following in his father’s footsteps-his heavenly father’s. Jesus really upset them when he told them that it takes outsiders to see what the locals refuse to see. In this area, we are the same.
So why couldn’t Jesus perform many miracles in Nazareth? It was because of a lack of faith. We know that unbelievers, like the people of Nazareth, often fail to tap into God’s power. If they had put faith in Jesus’ wisdom they would have heard God’s guidance and encouragement. If they had looked deeper into Jesus’ cures, they would have seen God reaching out to rescue them. Instead, they missed out on the greatest miracles of all.
Jesus took the rejection in stride and continued his ministry be sending out the twelve disciples. He sent them out with only the barest of essentials-one cloak and a staff. He wanted them to trust God to provide for their needs. They were to concentrate on their mission. Plus, Jewish custom at that time was to offer hospitality to travelers. Jesus wanted the disciples to stay at the first house that offered them a place to stay in each city or town that they visited, rather than moving from house to house.
Warnings about the trappings of affluence need to be heard again today, especially when we hear stories of millions of dollars flowing into Christian ministries-dollars that are used to finance the leaders’ lifestyles instead of being used to do God’s work in the world. They need to be more like Roman Catholic priests in that functional simplicity is better.
God calls us to let go of some of the assumptions and rules we have about how we have always done things. The rules can be more of an obstacle than an aid in our spiritual journey. He calls us to leave behind our pride and ego. He strips these things from us so that we might travel light again and rely on God’s power alone to guide us and trust His grace to support and sustain us.
So why did Jesus send the twelve out in pairs? He had three main reasons. First, a partner provides strength, protection and companionship. Second, a partner also provides credibility. Deuteronomy 15:19 required two or three witnesses in order to convict a person of a crime, because a single witness was likely to make a mistake. For the same reason, one witness had less credibility than two (and perhaps that is why Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses always come knocking on our doors in pairs today). Finally, a partner holds people accountable. A person is less likely to succumb to temptation when accompanied by a partner.
Jesus wanted the disciples to know that they would travel the open roads of Palestine penniless and expecting to be welcomed with open arms, especially in their own home towns. He also wanted them to know that the Gospel message was a hard one to preach and a hard one to hear-not popular, not easy, and not automatically earning respect, especially at home.
Those who refused to show proper hospitality, or those who refused to listen to the disciples’ message, were to be treated as pagans. As such, the disciples were to do what the Jews did after they walked through Gentile lands-namely, shake the dust off of their feet as they left. Not only did this warn the offenders, it freed the disciples to move to more fertile territory-just like Jesus did after the people of Nazareth rejected him.
Jesus and the disciples always challenged the status quo, and we need more people like them today. We need people who will speak the truth and shake us out of our comfortable lives. We need people who will comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We need people who will cooperate with God’s plan for their lives. In other words, we need people of faith.
Just like the people of Nazareth did not really know Jesus, it is possible for us to not really know Jesus. We can understand him and what he can do for us, but we often play it safe and refuse to take risks. More important, we might not know him personally. God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things in our world. Jesus was just an ordinary man in the eyes of the people of Nazareth, but he was God in human form and could do extraordinary things. Every Christian has a part to play in God’s master plan.
This story represents one of the few failures in Jesus’ ministry, but it also shows his human side. Like Jesus, we will all face failure at some point in our lives. Some of you might be feeling a sense of failure now. It might be a sense of failure as a provider, or a sense of failure in life, or a sense of some other form of failure. Failure is hard because society has conditioned us for success, but it has not adequately prepared us for failure. We look at people such as Tiger Woods or Sidney Crosby and see only success. The only time we really see failure is when it involves someone famous such as Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston or even evangelists such as Jimmy Swaggart or Jim Bakker.
Those who accept God’s call to follow him will face rejection in its many forms-persecutions, insults, hostility, contempt, scorn, etc. They are the common situation for those who accept the call. Just like Christ rejected the way of glory and found glory in obedience and death, we must also reject the way of the world and accept the way of the cross. Christianity is not a religion for those who want success or power in the traditional worldly sense.
Jesus faced failure, but he kept on going. We can face failure and keep on going if we have the faith, courage, wisdom and strength that come with both believing in Jesus and fellowship with fellow believers. When Jesus sent the twelve disciples out, he prepared them to handle failure. He constantly prepares us for failure through his word and our faith. If we want to do something for the Gospel or for God, we have to believe them and behave according to their teachings. We must have faith and let our actions match our faith. When we do, Christ will do deeds of power thought us, and the world will be blessed by our having been here.
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2009)
- Exegesis for Mark 6:1-13. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
- Ron Hutchcraft, “The Home Folks’ Hazard”. Retrieved from www.hutchcraft.com
- Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)”. Retrieved from www.preacherexcchange.org
- Richard Inness, “The Power of Little Things”. Retrieved from www.actsweb.org.
- Dr. Mickey Anders, “The Sacrament of Failure”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
- The Rev. Amy Butler, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
- MacArthur, J.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers: 2006;2008)
- McKenna, D.L., & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 25:Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.: 1982)
- ESV Study Bible. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package
- Commentary on Matthew & Mark. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package
- Matthew Henry Concise Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package
- Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package
- The Rev. David Shearman, “Hometown Celebrities”. Retrieved from http://seemslikegod.org/articles/hometown-celebrities/
- The Rev. Anthony Robinson, “Buying the Ticket”. Retrieved from www.day1.org