He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
After Jesus heals two daughters, he returns to his home town and continues his rhythm of entering the synagogue on the Sabbath and teaching. The hometown crowd does not respond with positive energy. They question Jesus’ ministry and speculate about his wisdom and power. He is not met with the same eagerness and openness that he had received during other stops his ministry.
In this encounter he is rejected by his family. This echoes the re-framing of kinship dynamics that we witnessed in 3:31-35. In that instance, Jesus rejects his family’s attempt to restrain him and re-frames the kinship dynamics as loyalty, trust, and participation in the kingdom of God. In this hometown episode, Jesus family rejects him, an issue of shaming and “derogation of Jesus’ honor from his own people - the ultimate put-down (Myers, 212).”
Jesus is unable to minister among the people of his hometown. He was “amazed at their unbelief (v. 6).” Here it is helpful to translate the apistis (unbelief) as “lack of trust.” The folks in Jesus’ hometown, amidst their questioning and speculation, do not trust in Jesus’ ability to heal and bring wholeness. They do not trust the in-breaking kingdom of God and are unwilling to participate in the ministry of Jesus.
After this rejection, Jesus withdraws with his disciples and shifts his ministry into a new stage.
Jesus Sends the Disciples
Upon being rejected in his hometown, Jesus gathers his disciples and sends them out on their own for the first time. This completes the “calling, naming, sending” cycle that was started in chapter 1 when Jesus walks along the sea of Galilee and calls his first disciples. Each move of this cycle - calling, naming, sending, takes place after a moment of conflict. The calling movement (1:16-20) takes place after Jesus’ temptation by the adversary and John’s arrest. The naming movement (3:13-19) occurs after his rejection get the synagogue by the Pharisees. This movement, the sending of the disciples, follows the same pattern.
Mark does not focus on where Jesus sends the disciples, or what they do while they are on their journeys. There is only one concluding line about their actions and the results of the mission. The focus for Mark is how Jesus shapes his disciples for the journey ahead.
There is a clue from Mark that this is no ordinary journey. Mark attaches this mission to the journey of discipleship. The word translated as “journey” in verse 8 is actually the Greek word hodos, the way, the metaphor for discipleship that Mark weaves through the narrative. Jesus instructions to the disciples are meant to be understood as instructions for the rhythm of discipleship. We will return to this theme with more frequency in the next chapters of Mark’s Gospel.
The instructions that Jesus gives to his disciples point to how we receive the hospitality of others. The disciples will be vulnerable to the generosity of others with on their journeys. It could be an allusion to the parable of the sower that we read in chapter four. Where there is “good soil” along the way, there will be a yield of “thirty and sixty, and a hundred fold (4:8).” This yield includes the resources shared with the disciples by the willing participation in the kingdom of God by those who trust that God is at work.
Ched Myers has two thoughts on this episode that I find helpful.
“It could certainly be conjectured that these instructions reflect an actual social strategy by which the early movement procured a network of ‘safe-houses’ around the countryside for purposes of mission and travel (Myers, 214).”
The movement of Jesus and his ministry would need safe places to safe and access to resources in order to continue, especially under increasing scrutiny by the authorities.
“This (shaking the dust off; “Jesus forbids retaliation in the event of rejection) makes the missionaries completely vulnerable to, and dependent upon, the hospitality extended to them, and obviously precludes them from being able to impose their views by force (Myers 214).”
One aspect of being a disciple is the ability to receive hospitality. The disciples (and us) will be vulnerable on the way, and will need the hospitality of others to continue. Jesus shapes us to be open to receive the hospitality of others. This can be difficult for disciples in the north american context. We sometimes feel a strong pull to "have to" contribute something - be it for a holiday party, or even an invitation to share a meal. Following Jesus shapes us in a way that shatters cultural norms and pushes us into a new way of life.
Questions for Modern Day Disciples
- How do we recognize moments when we may be rejecting the ministry of Jesus in our midst?
- How do we recognize our own “lack of trust” in the journey of discipleship?
- How do we receive the hospitality of others on our journey of faith?
We will gather next week, December 21st, and review the what we have covered so far in our reading of Mark. On December 28th we will not have class.
We will pick up with the rest of Mark 6 on January 4th.