MARK 3-6. THE CONTEXT
The stories of Jesus’ visit to his hometown and his commissioning of the twelve are two separate stories. The first story has to do with belief and unbelief. The second story has to do with the call of disciples and the proclamation of the Gospel. Both stories have to do with the acceptance or rejection of Christ or his representatives. The preacher will do well to choose one of the stories rather than trying to integrate both of them into a single sermon (Brueggemann, 418).
Mark positions these two stories after the three miracle stories of chapter 5:
• Jesus’ healing of the Gerasene demoniac (5:1-20),
• The healing/resurrection of Jairus’ daughter (5:21-23, 35-43)
• The healing of the woman with the hemorrhage (5:24-34)
In these stories, Jesus’ demonstrated his great power on both sides of the Sea of Galilee—the eastern Gentile side and the western Jewish side. Those who witnessed his power, Gentile and Jew, were amazed (5:20, 42). Jesus’ visit to his hometown therefore follows great demonstrations of Jesus’ power. To the extent that they are aware of these miracles, Jesus’ hometown folk have reason to be proud. We would expect them to welcome him with a ticker-tape parade—but they don’t.
However, this isn’t the first account in this Gospel of Jesus visiting his hometown. In an earlier visit, his family or friends “went out to seize (Jesus): for they said, ‘He is insane.’ The scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul,’ and ‘By the prince of the demons he casts out the demons'” (3:21-22). Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the hometown folk fail to welcome Jesus more warmly in this later visit.
Immediately following these two stories, Mark tells us of the death of John the Baptist (6:14-29). The call of the disciples is therefore sandwiched between two stories of rejected prophets—Jesus rejected by his hometown people (vv. 1-6a) and John killed by the king (vv. 14-29). Following the death of John the Baptist, Mark reports the disciples gathering around Jesus to report the results of the mission on which he has sent them (6:30)—perhaps suggesting that, no matter how dark the moment, the church continues its work. God will not be stymied even by the death of one of his greatest servants.
The report of the death of John the Baptist (6:14-29) is sandwiched between the account of Jesus sending the disciples on a mission (6:7-13) and their reporting the results of that mission to Jesus (6:30). The stories of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth and John’s death demonstrate the power of evil arrayed against God’s prophets and give us a hint of what lies ahead for Jesus. They also prepare us for the opposition that the disciples will face in the early church and warn us that we cannot expect an evil world to welcome our witness to Christ more warmly that it welcomed Christ.
MARK 6:1-3. THEY WERE OFFENDED AT HIM
1He went out from there. He came into his own country (Greek: patrida), and his disciples followed him. 2When the Sabbath had come, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many hearing him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things?” and, “What is the wisdom that is given to this man, that such mighty works come about by his hands? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter (Greek: tekton), the son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judah, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” They were offended (Greek: eskandalizonto—scandalized—offended) at him.
“He went out from there. He came into his own country” (patrida) (v. 1a). Padrida is related to patros, the Greek word for father. Padrida can mean fatherland, but here it is rightly translated hometown. Nazareth is not identified by name here, but Mark told us earlier that “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee” (1:9). He has since made Capernaum his home (2:1; see also Matthew 4:13), but Nazareth is his hometown—the place where he grew up—the place where his family lives—the place to which he would be expected to come to revisit his roots.
Nazareth is a village of 500 people (Hare, 68; Edwards, 169) or 1,600 to 2,000 people (Perkins, 592)—a town small enough that everyone would know everyone else—and everyone else’s business. We would not expect such villagers to be very sophisticated or accepting of new ideas.
“and his disciples followed him” (v. 1b). This is not just a hometown boy returning for a casual visit. Having disciples in attendance marks Jesus as a rabbi.
“When the Sabbath had come, he began to teach in the synagogue” (v. 2a). Jesus’ ministry is characterized by both teaching and mighty works. The synagogue is central to the religious and social life of the community, and teaching is central to synagogue ministry. In a day when many people cannot read and do not have access to the precious scrolls, hearing the scriptures read and expounded in the synagogue is their primary way of learning their religious heritage. However, this Gospel will not tell us of another occasion where Jesus teaches in a synagogue. Hereafter, he will teach in houses (7:17, 24; 9:33; 10:10).
“and many hearing him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get these things?’ and, ‘What is the wisdom that is given to this man, that such mighty works come about by his hands?'” (v. 2b). A literal translation would be “What is the wisdom given to (Jesus), and how are these mighty works performed at his hands?”
The people are astonished both by Jesus’ wisdom and his mighty works.
There is no indication that Jesus has accomplished mighty works at Nazareth—in the midst of these people. However, he has worked six miracles within a few miles of Nazareth (1:40-45; 2:1-12; 3:1-6; 5:1-20, 21-43). The people of Nazareth must have gone to the synagogue service with a sense of expectation—wondering what they would hear from this young man who had grown up in their midst.
Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus taught in that synagogue service. Were the people astounded by the content of his teachings or his authoritative manner? Probably both—but especially his authoritative manner. He was, after all, one of them. They must have thought, “Who does he think he is?” They answer that question, “He is a carpenter, the son of Mary.”
“Isn’t this the tekton?” (v. 3a). A tekton is a carpenter or stonemason—almost certainly a carpenter in this instance. Such craftsmen are respected and well-paid—but they aren’t accorded the respect that would be given to a rabbi.
There are two problems here. The first is that Jesus has not had the formal training required for rabbis. He lacks the credentials expected of a teacher. The second is that Jerusalem scribes have begun to spread malicious rumors about him—”He has Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of the demons he casts out the demons” (3:22). Jesus’ hometown neighbors are therefore reluctant to accept him as anything other than a tekton—a carpenter.
Luccock labels these neighbors “factfinders”—people who place their faith in facts and the conclusions that they reach by adding the facts (Luccock, 727). The phrase today is “bean counters”—people who place too much trust in the data—who fail to see the forest for the trees—who are prone move in wrong directions because they are confident that their data has given them the “right” answers.
“the son of Mary” (v. 3b). People would usually identify a man by his relationship with his father rather than his mother, and he is so identified in John 6:42. It is possible that Joseph is dead by this time, although we would expect people to identify Jesus by his father’s name even after the father’s death. Identifying Jesus as Mary’s son may be intended as a slur on the legitimacy of his birth.
“and brother of James and Joses and Judah and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” (v. 3c). Earlier, Jesus’ family “went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind’ ” (3:21). When the people told Jesus that his mother and brothers were waiting for him, he responded, “Whoever does the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother” (3:35).
After the resurrection, Jesus will make an appearance to his brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7). James will become an apostle (Galatians 1:9) and a pillar of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). Jude might be the author the New Testament book by his name, but that is not certain. Jesus’ brothers were among those engaged in prayer and supplication shortly after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:14)—and Paul mentions “the brothers of the Lord” alongside a mention of the apostles (1 Corinthians 9:5). In other words, it is quite possible that all of Jesus’ brothers became believers.
There is a long-standing controversy over Jesus brothers and sisters. Protestants regard them as natural children of Joseph and Mary. Catholics, favoring a doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity, regard them otherwise—as cousins of Jesus or sons of Joseph by a previous marriage.
“They were offended at him” (v. 3d). Jesus has experienced opposition from demons (1:24; 5:7) and religious authorities (2:16, 18, 24; 3:6, 22) and even his own family (3:21), but this is the first time that he experiences rejection by ordinary Jewish people. It will not be the last time (15:11-14).
MARK 6:4-6a. HE MARVELED BECAUSE OF THEIR UNBELIEF
4Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own relatives, and in his own house.” 5He could do no mighty work (Greek: dunamin—the word from which we get “dynamite”) there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people, and healed them. 6He marveled because of their unbelief.
“A Prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own relatives, and in his own house” (v. 4). Jesus expands a familiar proverb to include “kin” and “house”—drawing three concentric circles (country, relatives, his own house), each circle bringing the proverb closer home (Edwards, 174). By applying this proverb to himself, Jesus implies that he is, indeed, a prophet, and that the people of Nazareth are guilty of rejecting him as the people of Israel have so often rejected the prophets.
“He could do no mighty work (dunamin) there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people, and healed them” (v. 5). Chapters 4-5 are replete with deeds of power—the stilling of the storm (4:35-41); the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac (5:1-20); the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter (5:21-24; 35-43); and the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage (5:25-34). The exorcism took place in Gentile territory, but Jesus can work no mighty deeds in his hometown. He is amazed at their unbelief (v. 6). This raises the question of the relationship between faith and healing. Does Jesus refuse to heal unbelievers—or is his power constrained in the presence of unbelief—is he unable to heal unbelievers?
The belief that failure to achieve a healing miracle demonstrates a failure of faith is common today, at least in some circles–but it isn’t Biblical (Geddert, 136). Well-meaning Christians sometimes further injure sick people by telling them that their lack of faith is the reason for their continued infirmity. The truth is that full-of-faith people get sick and die too. The Lord heals some, but not all, faithful people.
There is a bit of mystery here—some ambiguity with which we must live. Perhaps the best answer is that two phenomena are at work here: First, unbelievers fail to avail themselves of God’s power. Second, God is less disposed to act in favor of unbelievers. Beyond that, perhaps we should not be too certain.
“He marveled because of their unbelief” (v. 6a). In verse 2, the townspeople made it clear that they are aware of Jesus’ wisdom and his mighty works. Not only are they familiar with them, but they are also astonished that Jesus would possess such wisdom and be able to perform such mighty works. And yet they still cannot bring themselves to believe. They are unwilling to confer extraordinary status on Jesus in spite of his extraordinary wisdom and works. It is hard to imagine what it would take to convince them to give Jesus his due.
MARK 6:6b-7. HE CALLED TO HIMSELF THE TWELVE
6bHe went around the villages teaching. 7He called to himself the twelve, and began to send them out (Greek: apostellein) two by two; and he gave them authority over the unclean spirits.
“He went around the villages teaching” (v. 6b). Jesus accepts rejection in stride, leaving behind people who have rejected him, and continuing his ministry elsewhere—a good model for the church today.
“He called to himself the twelve” (v. 7a). Mark will refer to these twelve as “apostles” when they report back to Jesus in 6:30—the only time that Mark uses the word “apostles” in this Gospel.
“and began to send them out (apostellein) two by two” (v. 7b). The word “apostle” comes from this word apostellein, which means “sent out.”
There are parallel accounts in Matthew 10:1-42 and Luke 9:1-6—as well as an account of the sending of the seventy in Luke 10:1-16. These accounts vary somewhat, as we would expect of stories that had their origins in oral tradition.
Jesus sends out the twelve two-by-two. This strategy is powerful for three reasons:
• A partner bestows strength—”For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls, and doesn’t have another to lift him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:10). Not only do partners protect each other from physical danger, but they also provide pleasant companionship and encourage each other in difficult circumstances.
• A second person lends credibility. Deuteronomy 15:19 requires two or three witnesses to convict a person of a crime, because a single witness is likely to make a mistake. For that same reason, one witness has less credibility than two—an important consideration when sending disciples to bear witness. Jesus could have sent them in groups of three, but two people are usually more effective than three. In a group of three, often two will bond with each other and will not fully accept the third person.
• A partner fosters accountability. A person is less likely to succumb to temptation when accompanied by a partner.
“two by two” (v. 7b). Jesus sent the twelve apostles out two by two—six pairs of apostles. That raises some questions, doesn’t it! How did Jesus pair up the apostles?
• Did he assign a strong apostle like Simon Peter with a weaker apostle like Simon the Cananaean? That would be a little confusing, wouldn’t it—two Simons paired together! Or did he pair Simon Peter with his brother, Andrew?
• Did Jesus pair James, the son of Zebedee, with his brother John? James and John were known as the “Sons of Thunder” (3:17). They must have been noisy guys! Did Jesus send James and John together—or did he tone them down by splitting them up. Maybe he sent James with someone like Thaddaeus? You’ve probably never heard of Thaddaeus—and for good reason. His name appears in the lists of apostles, but that’s all we know about him.
• What about Judas Iscariot—the man who would betray Jesus? Judas was one of the twelve. Just imagine how you would have felt if you had been an apostle and Jesus had paired you with Judas Iscariot to go out and preach the Gospel. At the time, of course, Judas hadn’t yet done his dirty deed, so you probably wouldn’t have thought anything about it.
“and gave them authority over the unclean spirits” (v. 7c). Mark doesn’t mention teaching, which has been an important component of Jesus’ ministry. The emphasis for the disciples on this particular journey is on preaching (v. 12), casting out demons, and healing the sick (v. 13).
MARK 6:8-11. HE COMMANDED THEM TO TAKE NOTHING
8He commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a staff only: no bread, no wallet, no money (Greek: chalkon—the smallest of copper coins) in their purse, 9but to wear sandals, and not put on two tunics. 10He said to them, “Wherever you enter into a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11Whoever will not receive you nor hear you, as you depart from there, shake off the dust that is under your feet for a testimony (Greek: marturion—testimony, witness—this is where we get our word, martyr) against them.”
“He commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a staff only: no bread, no wallet, no money in their purse, but to wear sandals, and not put on two tunics” (vv. 8-9). Jesus tells the twelve to take nothing but a staff and sandals—no bread, no bag, no money, and only a single tunic. Jesus prohibits not only frivolous items, but essential ones as well. His requirements go beyond simplicity to reckless faith. The disciples are to proceed without adequate preparation, trusting local people for hospitality but, above all, trusting God to provide for their needs.
Jesus is no ascetic—people have called him a drunk and a glutton (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34)—and he does not require his disciples to be ascetics. He does, however, require faith, and starting a journey without provisions is a profound act of faith.
There are several parallels with the Exodus:
• Jesus’ instructions to the twelve sound very much like God’s instructions regarding the Passover lamb: “This is how you shall eat it: with your belt on your waist, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste” (Exodus 12:11).
• The requirement that the twelve not carry bread is reminiscent of God’s instructions to the Israelites regarding manna. They were to trust that God would provide daily manna, gathering only an omer of manna per person each day and not keeping any of it overnight (Exodus 16:16-19).
• The requirement that they carry no money reminds us of the problems that the Israelites experienced when they stole gold from the Egyptians in preparation for their journey (Exodus 3:22). While the gold was useful for adornment of the Tabernacle, it led to their undoing when the people persuaded Aaron to make a golden calf (Exodus 32).
“Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there” (v. 10). The requirement for the disciples not to move from house to house serves two purposes: First, it prevents bad feelings among hosts who might be embarrassed if the disciples leave their home for better accommodations. Second, it prevents the disciples from being distracted by concern for their physical comfort.
To what extent do these prohibitions apply to disciples today? Does Christ require this same freedom from possessions of us?
• On the one hand, we can say no. Jesus gave these instructions to disciples engaged in a particular, short-term ministry. Also, their environment was quite different—Jewish hospitality demanded that villagers receive and provide food and lodging for travelers. No such requirement exists today in most places, so we must be prepared to provide for our own needs while traveling.
• On the other hand, we can say yes. Jesus’ instructions called for the disciples to focus on mission rather than personal comfort. Jesus called them to a great purpose, and they were not to be distracted by trivia. That emphasis is timeless.
• Paul’s example is helpful at this point. Paul lived simply and endured many hardships in the course of his ministry. While he accepted some support from churches (Philippians 4:13-19), he provided for most of his personal needs by making and selling tents (Acts 18:3; 1 Corinthians 9:12; 2 Thessalonians 3:8).
The issue of financial support for ministry is never easily resolved. Is ministry enhanced by the pastor having an automobile—and a computer—and a professional library? Probably! Is ministry enhanced by a congregation having an attractive church building? Probably! Is it appropriate for clergy to expect a living wage? In most cases! Do these financial considerations sometimes become ends in themselves, detracting from our mission? Certainly! How do we manage ministry without church budgets and pastoral compensation packages becoming distractions? By prayer and constant vigilance!
“Whoever will not receive you nor hear you, as you depart from there, shake off the dust that is under your feet for a testimony against them” (v. 11). Jews returning from Gentile lands would shake off pagan dust as a gesture of cleansing and contempt. When the disciples shake off the dust of an unreceptive village, they are declaring that village pagan—announcing God’s judgment on that village—washing their hands of further responsibility for that village (Guelich, 322-323). The gesture serves as a warning to the offending village and frees the disciples to move to more fertile fields. Their responsibility is faithful proclamation—not success.
MARK 6:12-13. THEY CAST OUT MANY DEMONS
12They went out and preached that people should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed many with oil who were sick, and healed them.
The disciples go where Christ sends them and do what Christ tells them to do. They are not great men, but they accomplish great things in Christ’s name. Like John the Baptist (1:4) and Jesus (1:15), they preach repentance (v. 12). Like Jesus, they cast out demons (1:25-26, 34, 39, 5:1-13). Like Jesus, they cure the sick.
Unlike Jesus, his disciples anoint with oil. By the time of the writing of this Gospel, anointing with oil was a regular ministry of the church. While anointing could serve several purposes (such as setting a person apart for ministry), the anointing mentioned in this verse has to do with healing the sick and casting out demons. James calls for the anointing of the sick, but says that it is the prayer of faith that saves them (James 5:14-15).
MARK 6:30. THE DISCIPLES REPORT TO JESUS
30The apostles gathered themselves together to Jesus, and they told him all things, whatever they had done, and whatever they had taught.
This is a very spare account of the disciples’ report to Jesus, giving no details regarding their difficulties or accomplishments. It brings to a close the story of the disciples’ mission.
It also serves as an ending bracket (the story of Jesus’ instructions to the disciples for their mission is the opening bracket) for the story of the death of John the Baptist. The story of John’s death is therefore a story set inside the story of this mission.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Barclay, William, Gospel of Mark (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1954)
Brooks, James A, The New American Commentary: Mark (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1991)
Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993)
Edwards, James R., The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002)
France, R.T., The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002)
Geddert, Timothy J., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Mark (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001)
Grant, Frederick C. and Luccock, Halford E., The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1951)
Guelich, Robert A., Word Biblical Commentary: Mark 1 – 8:26 (Dallas: Word Books, 1989)
Hare, Douglas R. A., Westminster Bible Companion: Mark (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996)
Marcus, Joel, The Anchor Bible: Mark 1-8 (New York: Doubleday, 1999)
Perkins, Pheme, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995)
Williamson, Lamar Jr., Interpretation: Mark (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1983)
Copyright 2015, Richard Niell Donovan