Isn’t This The Carpenter?
Ordinary 14 Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Mark 6: 1 6
The incident recorded in this brief account followed our Lord’s very successful ministry at Capernaum. He had just healed the daughter of Jairus and the woman who touched the corner of His clothing. He was deeply impressed with their great faith. He was soon to be confronted by a very different reception.
Some Reflections on the Text
He departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples.
Our Lord decided to take a little time out in His old hometown where He grew up. This seems to be the first time He returned home with a circle of disciples attached to Him in Jewish rabbinic style. Theophylactus (11th Century Byzantine scholar) taught:
“After the miracles that Christ had performed, though he was not
ignorant how much they despised him, yet that there might be no
excuse for their disbelief, he condescended to return to them.”
We have here, therefore, a model in the ministry of Jesus, that if He feels He has been rejected through bias and prejudice, He takes the initiative to provide people with another opportunity, so they can engage with Him in person, and make their own judgment. Jesus therefore appears before His old acquaintances in the town of Nazareth.
The scholars tell us that in this part of St. Mark’s Gospel Jesus is concerned very much with the training of His closest disciples. They are to witness their Master’s rejection by His fellow townspeople, and how He dealt with that. (Stock and Wessel)
When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue,
and many who heard him were astonished.
When Sabbath came round, though He was “a local”, He was accorded the respect paid to visitors, and was invited to speak, and comment upon the Scriptures chanted as part of the service. Many of those present were amazed at both what He said and the way He explained it. Few would have heard Him comment upon the Scriptures before. (Which leads us to remember how privileged we are that much of what He taught has been recorded for our benefit.)
Verses 2b and 3
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.
If we pause to look at the four questions recorded plus the recognition of His “mighty deeds,” it is very clear they have no problem believing it is their “local lad” preaching so enthusiastically and healing so amazingly. They believe all right — but their belief does nothing to strengthen their faith. They ask all the wrong questions. They are not actually listening to Him from the heart.
Despite the amazement at the depth of Jesus’ teaching, the locals at Nazareth are sceptical. And they are quite unrestrained in their comments. It is almost at the level of, “Who does he think he is, putting on airs like that! He’d better not forget He is only one of us!”
To demean our Lord even further, they add comments like: “Isn’t he the carpenter who used to be just down the road living with his parents? And aren’t James, Joseph, Judas and Simon his family also? Clearly, they took offence at Him, and made certain He got the message!
It is worth making a note here of a matter over which Christians strongly disagree; and that is the reference to the brothers and sisters of Jesus as grounds for denying the perpetual virginity of Mary His mother. One can argue about the validity or otherwise of this belief, but it is poor exegesis to try and prove one’s case either way from Mark 6: 3! Paul Achtemeier offers a common sense guideline for those who want to be unbiased:
Contrary to normal Jewish practice, Jesus is identified by his mother
rather than his father, although some manuscripts read “son of the
carpenter and Mary.” Yet Mark nowhere in his Gospel mentions Joseph,
perhaps because he had long since died, perhaps because Jesus’ true
father is God. Later church disputes over whether Mary remained a
virgin after Jesus’ birth raised problems about how “brothers” and
“sisters” are to be understood here.
In Mark’s context, their mention is merely intended to
show that the villagers perceived Jesus as no different from
any of them. His family was known, including his brothers and
sisters. The problem of Mary’s virginity is simply absent from
Mark’s Gospel. (Invitation to Mark, Doubleday 1978)
Graham Swift also offers some excellent advice on interpreting this incident:
The fact of His wisdom and power was undeniable, but they questioned
the divine origin of these things, the implication being that when the
obviously supernatural does not come from God it must emanate from
the devil. This is the essence of unbelief, the stubborn refusal to accept
the evidence and admit the presence and power of God; and nothing so
inhibits the power of God. That he could do no mighty work there (v. 5)
is one of the boldest statements in the Gospels, but it clearly shows that
our Lord’s miracles were no mere magic; they were vitally
related to the moral condition and faith of the people. Though
He is omnipotent, God in His sovereignty will not act for
blessing in the face of human rebellion.
(New Bible Commentary Revised. Inter-Varsity 1970)
Somewhat distraught at the negativity He encountered, Jesus summed up exactly how He felt with His oft-quoted remark:
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his
own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.”
Our Lord is obviously feeling demeaned. We are tempted to wonder: is it “familiarity breeds contempt”? After all, the locals did mutter among themselves that Jesus had come back home “putting on airs”. Their attitude seemed to be that if He really were the Messiah, there wouldn’t be any doubt about it. That was a common opinion at that time.
The real issue in this incident is that the standards by which they assessed the value of our Lord’s teaching were false. They were “off course” in their religion. They had departed from its core values. This being the case, they didn’t have a show of realising He was the one to follow. It was a great tragedy, but it was their choice!
Seen from another angle we could say they rejected Jesus because they did not know Him. They thought they did, but their actions betrayed their unworthy thoughts.
Verses 5 and 6
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. He went around to the
villages in the vicinity teaching.
Let’s pause again to look more closely at what St. Mark has recorded.
There seemed to be no one present who didn’t believe Jesus could cure the sick, and perform other mighty deeds. No problem there. The trouble was, hardly anyone had the faith to believe that it was the power of God working in Him. The handful of people who were cured, were a tiny remnant whose faith in Jesus was what He was looking for. In this setting, their faith was the spontaneous response to God’s gracious favour, revealed in His Son. (Stock) The beautiful truth for us is that we can actually experience that very same “gracious favour” of God.
Jesus was very saddened by the unbelief of His own townspeople: by the obstinate refusal either to believe the testimony of witnesses or to be willing to assess His ministry without bias. As a result, He was (on the only occasion recorded in the Gospels) amazed at their lack of faith, and was unable to do any great miracles other than a few examples of healing. We do not say He “could not” do any great miracles, since we know He did have that power.
Evidently, in God’s economy of salvation, if a body of his people refuse to believe when the evidence is staring them in the face, He honours their free-will choice and submits to the constrictions that imposes. Thus the words in verse 5, “So He was not able to perform any mighty deed there,” mean that according to His principles, He found it inappropriate to do so.
Our Lord, refusing to be out-flanked, moved on and went out around the surrounding villages teaching those who were prepared to listen to Him. It became a well established feature of His ministry that those who chose to listen to Him and assimilate what He taught always had their vision of Him much enhanced.
This short lesson has some very powerful lessons for the devoted followers of Jesus.
Almost everyone reading these notes will be aware that much modern Biblical scholarship (both Protestant and Catholic) considers the miracles of Jesus awkward, if not embarrassing and finds most imaginative ways to explain them away. The Hebrew Christian position is quite the reverse.
1. Some writers, wanting to underpin the Gospel accounts err by
insisting on the presence of faith in order for a miracle to be
accomplished. That is just as false as Mark 4: 35 — 41 demonstrates.
The real issue is that, as St Mark goes to great lengths to help us
understand, we will never grasp the meaning of Jesus’ miracles
except through faith in him. He, and the glory He gives His Father
are to be the centre of focus, not the deeds He performs! They are
intimations of the heavenly spiritual order, and as such are closed
to the sceptic, who can only scoff, and indeed, is left free to do so.
2. In our text for reflection, the local townspeople of Nazareth
had the opportunity to acknowledge the humble greatness of Jesus.
It is easy to slip into the habit of condemning them for failing to do
this. However, in contemporary religion today the same false
standards of judgements by which we estimate greatness are just as
much a problem. People flock to hear many preachers who
specialise in mega-ministries because of the same messianic notion
which requires vast numbers of people, miracles virtually on demand,
and a leader who bulldozes his / her way through Sacred Scripture.
Huge numbers have become psychologically dependent on this
type of modern consumeristic religion: a kind of “religious
3. The local inhabitants of our Lord’s town were super-confident
they knew Him when in fact they did not; nor had they any real
inclination to understand Him. In the spiritual domain, such
failure so often comes down to lack of true knowledge of the
Scriptures, especially by those who most claim to live by them!
That is true in any age.
Throughout Christianity today, people stand up in Church say and do the most absurd things whilst claiming it to be evidence of the Holy Spirit active in their midst. Yet the same people have not the slightest interest in listening to a short passage from the Gospels and meditating on the teaching of Jesus which it contains. Is this not a cause for alarm, and the very fulfilment of our Lord’s own prediction that people will choose the new and fascinating in preference to the sound and solid teaching He bequeathed the Church? Meditation on the Holy Gospels is indeed a radical call to rectify this sad state of degeneration.
We close on a “quieter” note with a beautiful reflection from the Glenstal Bible Missal:
One can draw two lessons from this account. First, that there is a way
of paralysing someone, of reducing him to powerlessness, simply by
withdrawing confidence from him, or imprisoning him in ready-made
categories. What energies are suppressed, discouraged, what joys
smothered by our final judgments on those whom we believe we know!
In our estimation of others, do we leave room for hope?
But there is more to it than that. God calls us too, not by
extraordinary people, but by very ordinary beings in whom we
have to recognise the unpredictable presence of the one sent by God.
The guest, the neighbour, the sick person, the stranger, the one at
my side, are so many channels of grace, if we guard in our hearts this
dynamism of expectancy which calls for and brings about miracles.
Yes, God has need of us in order to manifest Himself.
For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:
If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.
To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:
This website is highly recommended:
Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so,
Isn’t This The Carpenter?
Ordinary 14 Year B St. Mark 6: 1 — 6
1. For the follower of Jesus, faith is the spontaneous response to God’s gracious favour revealed in His Son. How much faith we have depends on how much we are open to receive God’s favour: His mercy and lovingkindness.
Jairus and the woman with the repeating hemorrhage had profound faith in Jesus — Who therefore had no hesitation in allowing their requests to be granted.
Back at our Lord’s hometown, everyone believed in His amazing deeds. But only a few had the faith to attribute this gift to the gracious favour of His Father, and thus give glory to God. There lies the core issue.
Even today, many people are led to believe that through the Holy Spirit, great and miraculous healings will occur almost on demand, as it were. Crowds flock to mega-miracle workers to see for themselves.
A lot of people who have done this report that they found there, something quite different. They discovered they had become hooked on witnessing more and more miracles and wonders which had become the principal object of their focus and search in religion. So often they found they remained stuck in that mindset.
Thus, today we are witnessing a very great onset of this pre-occupation in Christianity. We have never seen such extreme and devastating end results as this craze which has opened people’s minds and hearts to ancient forms of paganism and idolatry — all masquerading as Christianity.
True faith in the graciousness and lovingkindness of God and in His Son, Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit — this is the antidote for the false attractions tearing Christianity apart. Fortunately we can be agents of God’s rebuilding a new age of Faith and extending this to the farthest corners of the earth — by prayer and sound Christian living, no matter where we are, or how humble and hidden our circumstances.
We comment on this issue whenever it “crops up” in the Gospels. Our Lord was constantly confronted with people wanting to hijack His purpose for their own advantage. They give it a facade of religion to silence those who see through it! We must be on the alert, always, and pray for those who flock to these gatherings, to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal the true Jesus Christ to them.
2. Rather early in Jesus’ ministry He began to teach increasingly in people’s homes. This
These may not be according to your custom and practice, but they may offer as few ideas,
3. God initiates!
An openness to faith, in the heart of God’s people, receives His gift. We may think that when we believe, we take the first step. But God is always the first to act in any relationship between Him and His servants. Our task is, in humility and gratitude, is to respond to God with love; giving Him thanks for His action in our lives and giving testimony to His good works.
Mark 6: 1 — 6
Ordinary 14 Year B
1 He departed from there and came to his native place, 1 accompanied by
2 2 When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and
3 Is he not the carpenter, 3 the son of Mary, and the brother of James
4 4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his
5 So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, 5 apart from
6 He was amazed at their lack of faith. He went around to the villages
1  His native place: the Greek word patris here refers to Nazareth (cf ⇒ Mark 1:9; ⇒ Luke 4:16, ⇒ 23-24) though it can also mean native land.
2 [2-6] See the note on ⇒ Matthew 13:54-58.
3  Is he not the carpenter?: no other gospel calls Jesus a carpenter. Some witnesses have “the carpenter’s son,” as in ⇒ Matthew 13:55. Son of Mary: contrary to Jewish custom, which calls a man the son of his father, this expression may reflect Mark’s own faith that God is the Father of Jesus (⇒ Mark 1:1, ⇒ 11; ⇒ 8:38; ⇒ 13:32; ⇒ 14:36). The brother of James . . . Simon: in Semitic usage, the terms “brother,” “sister” are applied not only to children of the same parents, but to nephews, nieces, cousins, half-brothers, and half-sisters; cf ⇒ Genesis 14:16; ⇒ 29:15; ⇒ Lev 10:4. While one cannot suppose that the meaning of a Greek word should be sought in the first place from Semitic usage, the Septuagint often translates the Hebrew ah by the Greek word adelphos, “brother,” as in the cited passages, a fact that may argue for a similar breadth of meaning in some New Testament passages. For instance, there is no doubt that in v 17, “brother” is used of Philip, who was actually the half-brother of Herod Antipas. On the other hand, Mark may have understood the terms literally; see also ⇒ Mark 3:31-32; ⇒ Matthew 12:46; ⇒ 13:55-56; ⇒ Luke 8:19; ⇒ John 7:3, 5. The question of meaning here would not have arisen but for the faith of the church in Mary’s perpetual virginity.
4  A prophet is not without honor except . . . in his own house: a saying that finds parallels in other literatures, especially Jewish and Greek, but without reference to a prophet. Comparing himself to previous Hebrew prophets whom the people rejected, Jesus intimates his own eventual rejection by the nation especially in view of the dishonor his own relatives had shown him (⇒ Mark 3:21) and now his townspeople as well.
5  He was not able to perform any mighty deed there: according to Mark, Jesus’ power could not take effect because of a person’s lack of faith.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised