Today’s gospel reading is a simple and short exposition on faith. In this passage, Jesus preaches in the synagogue in his hometown, yet the members of the church respond to his teaching with hubris. With some irony, the people take note of both the wisdom and mighty deeds of Jesus; but they find it difficult to accept that a carpenter’s son might be an instrument of the Lord’s divine plan. This passage is nearly identical to Matthew 13:54-58, and somewhat parallels Luke 4:16-29. These three passages, one each in Matthew, Mark and Luke, are the only stories in the Synoptic Gospels that give us an account of the preaching of Jesus in a synagogue.
A Carpenter, the Son of Mary
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is said to be a carpenter, the son of Mary. Here we find the only reference in the bible to Jesus the carpenter (tekton: Strong’s 5045). In Matthew’s account, Jesus is a carpenter’s son. The reference to his brothers, James, Joses, Judas and Simon appears to be colloquial. These are friends or cousins, but not likely immediate brothers.
There are minor differences in detail among the three accounts. For instance, in Luke’s account, the audience speaks of Jesus as being known in relation to Joseph, while Mark’s Gospel refers to Jesus as being known in relation to his mother. According to Luke, Jesus says that no prophet is accepted in his hometown (Lk 4:24), whereas Mark records that a prophet is not without honor except in his native place.
A Luke-Warm Reception
In all three synoptic Gospels, we are told that the preaching of Jesus is met with some derision. R.T. France notes the common reaction across the three Gospels, where Jesus receives a cool (if not hostile) reception. But all three sacred authors tell us that Jesus’ native place of Nazareth has the dubious distinction of joining Chorazin, Bethsaida and Caparnaum among the list of Galillean towns whose residents receive Jesus with a lukewarm welcome. Given that Jesus is a “carpenter,” or a “carpenter’s son,” we should be unsurprised by the skepticism of the audience. The Jews who attend synagogue expect a rabbi, trained for years in Scripture, to preach. They hardly expect a sermon from the son of a tradesman. The surprise, skepticism and curiosity of the synagogue congregation is captured in Martin Knoeller’s eighteenth-century painting, above.
Reflecting on this passage, we can see that a central message of the story is that Jesus can preach with wisdom, despite the fact that he is not a Pharisee or rabbi. That Jesus is a tradesman is simply part of the divine plan. It shows that the knowledge and wisdom of Jesus are not of earthly, but rather of divine origin. Both Mark and Matthew tell us that Jesus is unsuccessful performing miracles among this audience, not because he is incapable of doing so, but precisely because the general skepticism of the synagogue audience precludes any participation in acts of faith. Mark even tells us that Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith.
Gospel Mk 6:1-6
When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue,
and many who heard him were astonished.
They said, “Where did this man get all this?
What kind of wisdom has been given him?
What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!
Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary,
and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?
And are not his sisters here with us?”
And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them,
“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place
and among his own kin and in his own house.”
So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,
apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.
He was amazed at their lack of faith.