Mark 6: 1-6
1 And Jesus departed from there, and came to his land, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue. On hearing him, many were perplexed and wondering: where does it come from, how could he have acquired this wisdom, how can his hands do such extraordinary things? 3 Is not he the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And do not his sisters live in the midst of us? They were shocked by him. 4 Jesus told his disciples that a prophet is despised only in his homeland, his kinsmen, and his family. 5 Thus he was unable to do any extraordinary thing, except some healings by laying on of hands. Jesus was astonished at their lack of faith. Subsequently, he traveled around the surrounding villages to teach.
Many tasks are not exciting, but they allow us to become what we are
Gospel commentary - Homily
I remember having one day in my office a man who had questions to ask me. Knowing myself a biblical scholar, he was anxious to have me share with him the secret writings of Jesus that the Church keeps hidden. He was a Rosicrucian, a member of this hermetic Christian order that dates back to the 17th century. He was disappointed to learn that it did not exist. A few years later, in Germany, my German teacher at the University of Munich invited me one evening at home, after learning that I was a biblical scholar. Once again, he wanted me to tell him about secret writings, outside the New Testament, that would reveal the key to life. He was a meditation enthusiast returning from California and attending esoteric groups. I told him a little about the apocryphal writings, but insisted that they were above all fanciful, without real values. But the source of my astonishment, in these two events, was to see in some people the conviction that there existed somewhere a knowledge which opened to a special life and reserved for initiates. This raises two questions: does the key to life depend on special knowledge? Is this knowledge accessible only to a limited group of people?
I find that today's Gospel story provides an answer to these two questions. Remember the scene. Jesus returns to the village where he was raised where he worked as a carpenter, probably the same job as his father. You should know that a carpenter at this time was different from today. This job involved a wide range of tasks: laying beams for the roofs of stone houses, making doors and door frames, as well as window crosspieces, furniture such as beds, tables, stools as well as only cupboards, chests or boxes. Justin the martyr says that Jesus also made plows and yoke for the animal. The exercise of this profession required a certain dexterity and physical strength, which distances us from the image of the candid puny man that the pious litterature presents to us of Jesus. Now this carpenter speaks at the synagogue, and his teaching is surprising. Is not it normal to say: who does he think he is? We have also heard about his reputation as a healer. Is not it normal to say, how is this possible? It's our neighbor, it's a family without history, we know since years the mother and all her brothers and sisters!
Let's stop here for a moment. It is important to dispel a mindset present in many very pious people who says this: but anyway, Jesus was a son of God, and therefore it is normal that he teaches and does miracles. Such an affirmation contradicts the heart of the mystery of the Incarnation. As the hymn to the Philippians puts it, "Jesus became like men, behaving like a man" (Philippians 2: 7). It is a man's characteristic to learn, to learn from his experiences and his mistakes, to learn by listening to others and by opening himself to events. How would it be different for the man Jesus? So, this Jesus who comes back to Nazareth is the one who grew up on a personal level by practicing his trade as a carpenter. He is the one who has heard the remarks of his father and mother, who has observed events of daily life (eg Luke 15: 8: "Who is the woman who, if she has ten drachmas and comes to lose one, do not light a lamp, do not sweep the house and look carefully, until she finds it?"), who has interacted with his brothers and sisters (the best biblicals get along today to recognize that Jesus had at least six brothers and sisters), who paid attention to nature (much of his parables come from the observation of nature: the sower, the mustard seed, the field lily and the birds of the sky, the fishing and the sorting of the fishes), which listened to the news of the day (see for example his mention of the eighteen persons whom the tower of Siloam killed in its fall in Luke 13: 4). This is the one whom the people of Nazareth are astonished at his wisdom. In fact, this wisdom is the whole message of the Gospels.
Basically, why are people astonished about Jesus? If he had come from Rome or Athens, or if he had been a famous Pharisee of Jerusalem like Gamaliel, people would have been less surprised. Why? There is this perception that the secret of life lies outside of one's own, almost inaccessible, that only a rare elite scattered in the world can reveal. Only those who claim to be gurus have ratings. Yet this is what the Gospel of today is denouncing. The people of Nazareth wanted a guru, and it was the carpenter from the corner street who was offered them.
There is, in my opinion, a form of blindness in wanting to seek light in secret or esoteric writings. It is wanting to seek far away what is at one's feet. A sentence of the Dominican Marie-Dominique Chenu, an expert at the Vatican Council II, accompanies me incessantly, he who once said: "Jesus came to sanctify the world, not to make it sacred". In other words, Jesus revealed that God is present above all at the core of everyday life, not in shrines, temples or churches.
Daily life offers everything you need to discover the key to life. It is this deep mystery that reveals itself to who takes the time to welcome it. It has the power to transform us, as it transformed Jesus. It is the master who can make us wise and full of life. And that's where we find God, not in heaven. Above all, there is no need for secret writings.
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, July 2015