Progressive reflections on the lectionary #25

Mark 6: 1-13 - The rejection at Nazareth

Progressive reflections on the lectionary #25

My family say that I’m a Bible nerd, and they don’t mean it kindly. They say it not because I’m an expert in the Bible - I’m definitely not, but because I find these texts endlessly interesting. Any old passage seems to have a whole host of rabbit holes you can disappear down, the passage this week is no different.

We’ve landed, like Dr Who in his Tardis, at the moment when Jesus pops home after a good old bout of healings and exorcisms etc., perhaps he nipped back to see the folks or catch up with old friends. Whatever the reason, on the Sabbath he nips round to the Synagogue to offer some of his famous revolutionary teaching. Cue consternation and, in the language of “Mark” - ‘offense’.

This is one of those stories that appears in all three of the Synoptic gospels, and is even referenced in John’s somewhat leftfield version of the Jesus story. It’s the source of the famous ‘a prophet is not without honour except at home’ quote. The repeated appearance of the story indicates that the events detailed (return home and unwelcoming reception) probably did happen in some way or other. “The son of man has no place to lay his head,” where Jesus warns that unlike Herod (‘that fox’) he has nowhere to call home, may be literal after all.

Of all the versions of this story, the one in “Luke” is the most dramatic, culminating in an attempt to stone Jesus to death (the first step of the stoning punishment was to throw the criminal off a cliff/platform ‘twice the height of an ordinary man’). This punishment was set out, in Deuteronomy, as being suitable, necessary even, for anyone who tries to get you to believe in a false god. Once his alternative views became known, the crowd tried to execute Jesus, in Luke, for apostasy.

Mark doesn’t include this detail, but it’s clear that people are unhappy, taking offense even, when Jesus gets going on his anti-establishment teaching. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Jesus teachings don’t always find a warm reception, particularly in the towns (where the money is), hence he sticks mainly to the countryside.

So in Mark’s account they grumble about his status and question his legitimacy: “who does this guy think he is?” He’s builder isn’t he? Isn’t he the guy with no dad? The politico religious authorities seem to have had Nazareth buttoned down, Jesus could get no traction there - he could hardly ‘heal’ anyone. Time to move on.

An interesting side note for anyone keen to look at the bit about the disciples being sent out with no provisions except a stick: the word used for ‘stick’ or ‘staff’ here is rhabdon, a word that can be translated in many ways - including as ‘wand’ - or even ‘sceptre’. One of the ways that some early Christians (and some Christians today) thought of Jesus was as a kind of wizard, using magical powers to heal people or do other miracles. ‘Miracle’ sounds much more spiritual than ‘magic’ - but it’s basically the same thing. A web search for images of Jesus holding a wand throws ups some fascinating results - basically there are lots of them, and some are very old.

It puts a different slant, I think, on the idea of ‘carry nothing with you except your stick’ if that stick happens to be a symbol of power - whether magical, spiritual or political (if we’re going to make the distinction) rather than a practical item to aid walking or ward of bears and whatnot.

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Image: Photo by John Salzarulo on Unsplash


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