Mark 6: 1-6

I propose a biblical analysis with the following steps: a study of each Greek word of the evangelical text, followed by an analysis of the structure of the narrative and its context, to which is added a comparison of parallel or similar passages. At the end of this analysis and as a conclusion, I propose to summarize what the evangelist meant, and I end up with some suggestions on how this Gospel could shed light on our current situation.


  1. Translation of the Greek text (28th edition of Kurt Aland)

    Greek textTransliterated Greek textLiteral translationTranslation in current language
    1 Καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ἐκεῖθεν καὶ ἔρχεται εἰς τὴν πατρίδα αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἀκολουθοῦσιν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ.1 Kai exēlthen ekeithen kai erchetai eis tēn patrida autou, kai akolouthousin autō hoi mathētai autou.1 And he came out from there and he comes into the hometown of him, and follow him the disciples of him.1 And Jesus departed from there, and came to his land, and his disciples followed him.
    2 καὶ γενομένου σαββάτου ἤρξατο διδάσκειν ἐν τῇ συναγωγῇ, καὶ πολλοὶ ἀκούοντες ἐξεπλήσσοντο λέγοντες• πόθεν τούτῳ ταῦτα, καὶ τίς ἡ σοφία ἡ δοθεῖσα τούτῳ, καὶ αἱ δυνάμεις τοιαῦται διὰ τῶν χειρῶν αὐτοῦ γινόμεναι;2 kai genomenou sabbatou ērxato didaskein en tē synagōgē, kai polloi akouontes exeplēssonto legontes• pothen toutō tauta, kai tis hē sophia hē dotheisa toutō, kai hai dynameis toiautai dia tōn cheirōn autou ginomenai?2 And having come Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many hearing were astonished saying, from where to this (man) these things, and what (is) the wisdom the having been given to him, even the works of power such by the hands of him are done?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 οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ τέκτων, ὁ υἱὸς τῆς Μαρίας καὶ ἀδελφὸς Ἰακώβου καὶ Ἰωσῆτος καὶ Ἰούδα καὶ Σίμωνος; καὶ οὐκ εἰσὶν αἱ ἀδελφαὶ αὐτοῦ ὧδε πρὸς ἡμᾶς; καὶ ἐσκανδαλίζοντο ἐν αὐτῷ.3 ouch houtos estin ho tektōn, ho huios tēs Marias kai adelphos Iakōbou kai Iōsētos kai Iouda kai Simōnos? kai ouk eisin hai adelphai autou hōde pros hēmas? kai eskandalizonto en autō.3 Is not this (guy) the carpenter, the son of the Mary and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not the sisters of him here towards us? And they took offense in him.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 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι οὐκ ἔστιν προφήτης ἄτιμος εἰ μὴ ἐν τῇ πατρίδι αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐν τοῖς συγγενεῦσιν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ αὐτοῦ.4 kai elegen autois ho Iēsous hoti ouk estin prophētēs atimos ei mē en tē patridi autou kai en tois syngeneusin autou kai en tē oikia autou.4 And was saying to them the Jesus that a prophet is not without honor if not in hometown of him and among the relatives of him and in the house of him.4 Jesus told his disciples that a prophet is despised only in his homeland, his kinsmen, and his family.
    5 καὶ οὐκ ἐδύνατο ἐκεῖ ποιῆσαι οὐδεμίαν δύναμιν, εἰ μὴ ὀλίγοις ἀρρώστοις ἐπιθεὶς τὰς χεῖρας ἐθεράπευσεν.5 kai ouk edynato ekei poiēsai oudemian dynamin, ei mē oligois arrōstois epitheis tas cheiras etherapeusen.5 And he was not able to do there any work of power, if not (on) a few sick (people) having laid the hands he healed.5 Thus he was unable to do there any extraordinary thing, except some healings by laying on hands.
    6 καὶ ἐθαύμαζεν διὰ τὴν ἀπιστίαν αὐτῶν. Καὶ περιῆγεν τὰς κώμας κύκλῳ διδάσκων.6 kai ethaumazen dia tēn apistian autōn. Kai periēgen tas kōmas kyklō didaskōn.6 And he was amazed because of the unbelief of them. And he was going about the villages around teaching.6 Jesus was astonished at their lack of faith. Subsequently, he traveled around the surrounding villages to teach.

  1. Analysis of each verse

    v. 1 And Jesus departed from there, and came to his land, and his disciples followed him.

    Literally: And he came out from there and he comes into the hometown (patrida) of him, and follow him the disciples (mathētai) of him.

And he came out from there
The previous scene takes place in Capernaum where Jesus brings Jairus' daughter back to life and heals a woman who was bleeding.

patrida (hometown)
Nazareth "and he comes into the hometown (patrida) of him". Patris means: homeland, country of origin. It is a very rare word in the Gospels (Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk = 2; Jn = 1) and in all the rest of the New Testament (only in Hebrews 11: 14). In the gospels, the word is found only in the same context proposed by Mark, i.e., where Jesus complains of having little value and of having his word badly received. What is meant by homeland or country of origin? Today, country is the equivalent of a state. But what about the Palestine of Jesus' time? This is where the text of Hebrews 11:14 comes to our aid. For the author refers to Abraham and his heirs to whom God made the promise of a land for inheritance, a homeland, and this homeland turns out to be heavenly: for in heaven God prepared for them a city (polis). City of origin and homeland are therefore synonymous. Now what is the city of origin of Jesus? Mark has already written this, "And it came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee" (1:9). Jesus' hometown, then, is Nazareth, where he lived and worked, and where his family lived (on Nazareth, see the Glossary). The distance from Capernaum to Nazareth is about thirty kilometers. We will have noticed that Mark uses a verb in the present tense. This is a way for him to make his story more vivid.

mathētai (disciples)
In Mark's gospel, the disciples occupy an important place. As soon as Jesus begins his ministry, he begins by choosing Andrew, Peter, James and John (Mark 1:16-20). From then on, his disciples accompany him everywhere and never leave him. They will witness all his words and actions, receive special teaching to clarify the meaning of the parables and will be called to perform the same acts of healing. We can guess the intention of the evangelist: he wants his audience, the community of Christians, to identify with these disciples who follow Jesus.

Noun mathētēs in Mark
v. 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?

Literally: And having come Sabbath (sabbatou), he began to teach (didaskein) in the synagogue (synagōgē), and many hearing were astonished (exeplēssonto) saying, from where (pothen) to this (man) these things, and what (is) the wisdom (sophia) the having been given (dotheisa) to him, even the works of power (dynameis) such by the hands (cheirōn) of him are done?

sabbatou (sabbath)
As we know, the Sabbath began on Friday night at sunset and ended on Saturday night at sunset. Two major activities took place on this day, the family meal and the gathering in the synagogue. Of the evangelists, Mark makes the most frequent reference to the Sabbath (Mt = 6; Mk = 8; Lk = 5; Jn = 5). If we examine these references to the Sabbath in relation to Jesus' ministry, we see that in Mark they revolve around two themes: a time of gathering for the Jews in the synagogue where Jesus also goes and which offers him an opportunity to teach (1:21; 6:1), and a time of debate with the Pharisees because of the restrictive rules that Jesus or his disciples seem to break (2:23; 3:2). Based on 1:21, which fits into a typical day for Jesus, we can say that Jesus' presence in the synagogue on the Sabbath was quite typical of his ministry.

didaskein (to teach)
It may surprise us to learn that Mark is the evangelist who uses the term "teach" the most (didaskō: Mt = 13; Mk = 18; Lk = 17; Jn = 10). For Mark presents us above all in Jesus a man of action, in constant struggle against the forces of evil. Yet he insists that Jesus taught, first in the synagogue (1:21; 6:2), then by the sea (2:13; 4:1-2; 6:34). When he was in Jerusalem, he taught in the temple (11:17; 12:35). When he sends his disciples on mission, he asks them to teach (6:30). For Mark, catechetical action is at the core of the Christian life.

synagōgē (synagogue)
Synagōgē: Mt = 9; Mk = 8; Lk = 15; Jn = 2. The synagogue is the main place of religious activity in Judaism, whereas the single temple was in Jerusalem and was attended only on annual festivals. On the Sabbath, the Scriptures were read, commented on, and prayed over (see the Glossary on the synagogue). During the week, scribes taught the young men the meaning of the Scriptures there. It is from the synagogue that the young Christian community will proclaim its faith. According to Mark, the synagogue is an important place in Jesus' work: it appears at the very beginning of his ministry (1:21-38), then in a summary of his work in Galilee, in the account of the miracle of the man with the paralyzed hand (3:1), and finally in our section that seems to summarize his activity among his own people (6:2).

Noun synagōgē in Mark
exeplēssonto (they were astonished)
Mark uses the term ekplēssō the most, which means: to be struck, to be amazed (Mt = 4; Mk = 5; Lk = 3; Jn = 0). This term serves to emphasize the fact that Jesus stands out from the others in different ways. Let us consider the five cases:

  • He teaches with authority, i.e. a teaching of which he is the author, and does not simply repeat or comment as the scribes do (1: 22)
  • He shows great wisdom and performs wonderful healings even though he is a man like everyone else (6: 2)
  • He makes the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak, which is quite unique (7: 37)
  • His teaching is also unique and radical, for example when he says, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (10:26)
  • His teaching captivates the crowds (11: 18)

Recall that this astonishment comes from the fact that it was not expected from a simple citizen who had never stood out before. This point is important for Mark when he addresses his community: it allows them to grasp that the extraordinary is happening in ordinary life. Note the use of the imperfect tense "were astonished", a tense that signifies an action that continues in time.

pothen (from where)
The question of the source of Jesus' ability is important. As we shall see, this ability concerns two things, his teaching and his healings. Since he did not associate with any of the great Pharisees, such as St. Paul, and is not identified with any school of scribes, his practical wisdom is not well understood. His ability to heal is problematic, for such an ability involves something supernatural, hence the accusation that he is associated with Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons. The question of origin helps to resolve the question of the meaning of Jesus' intervention and to situate that meaning in relation to God.

sophia hē dotheisa (wisdom the having been given)
I translated "he have acquired this wisdom" to address the question of the source of this wisdom in Jesus, but the Greek text literally says: what is this wisdom that has been given to him. In Judaism, a verb in the passive tense is a way of speaking implicitly of God, and so one would be referring to God's action in giving this wisdom to Jesus. As for the word "wisdom", it is the only mention by Mark in his entire gospel, which indicates the small place that this reality occupies. Suffice it to say that wisdom, in Judaism, designates above all actions adjusted to the divine will.

dynameis (works of power)
The word dynamis (Mt = 15; Mk = 10; Lk = 17; Jn = 0) which gave our English words: dynamism or dynamo or dynamite, is often translated as miracle. But it must be understood that the Jewish world, and the New Testament in particular, has no specialized term like miracle, which, for the contemporary world, designates either an event inexplicable by the laws of nature and attributed to God, in a context of religious faith, or a surprising, unexpected, unhoped-for, marvelous event, in a secular context. Dunamis, which translates as power or strength or ability, is a generic Greek term that covers a wide range of meanings (see Glossary to browse these various meanings). For Jesus' audience, these exceptional actions set him apart, and that is what she is trying to understand.

cheirōn (hands)
Mark uses the word "hand" frequently (Mt = 24; Mk = 26; Lk = 26; Jn = 15). The recurrence of this word in Mark can be grouped into four categories:

  1. With a symbolic meaning: "the Son of Man is given over into the hands of" which is synonymous with "to be handed over into the power of" (9:31; 14:46); or "And if your hand is an occasion of sin to you" which refers to any destructive reality in his life (9:43)
  2. With reference to a religious ritual: the obligation for a Jew to wash his hands before a meal (7: 2-5)
  3. With a simple connotation of medical observation: the man with the paralyzed hand (3: 1-5)
  4. With reference to the therapeutic action of Jesus:
    • first of all, the laying on of hands (5: 23-41: the synagogue leader asks Jesus to lay his hands on his dying daughter; 6: 5: Jesus heals some cripples by laying his hands on them; 7: 32: Jesus is asked to lay his hands on a deaf man; 8: 23: Jesus lays his hands on a blind man; 10: 16: Jesus kisses the children and blesses them by laying his hands on them)
    • Jesus heals by taking the person by the hand (1: 31: he raises Peter's feverish mother-in-law by taking her hand; 9: 27: Jesus takes an epileptic child by the hand and raises him up, and he is healed);
    • or Jesus heals people by touching them with his hand (1: 41: Jesus heals a leper by touching him with his hand; 5: 41: he takes the hand of the dead daughter of the ruler of the synagogue and asks her to get up; 8: 25: Jesus puts his hands on the eyes of the blind man to heal him)

The last group contains the largest number of references and it is to this group that our verse refers: by his hands Jesus performs healings.

v. 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.

Literally: Is not this (guy) the carpenter (tektōn), the son of the Mary (Marias) and the brother (adelphos) of James (Iakōbou) and Joses (Iōsētos) and Judas (Iouda) and Simon (Simōnos)? And are not the sisters (adelphai) of him here towards us? And they took offense (eskandalizonto) in him.

tektōn (carpenter)
Tektōn (literally: craftsman) is the Greek translation of the Hebrew: ḥārāš. In the Old Testament, it refers to a manual worker who touches just about everything: lumber if he is involved in building construction, but more often in carving wood for everyday objects or repairing them; metal to make tools or objects related to building, such as locks, or even pieces of goldsmithing; stone for some masonry work or engraving on stelae or seals. He is therefore a jack of all trades.

That's why modern Bibles use different words to translate ḥārāš: carpenter, blacksmith, craftsman, artist, sculptor, tailor, chiseler, mason, stonecutter, engraver, worker, goldsmith, woodcutter. In his little village of Nazareth, was Jesus all of these? Clearly, he was not involved in the construction of large buildings that did not exist in this humble hamlet. He could be described as a carpenter, if one recognizes that this trade involved a wide range of tasks: the laying of beams for the roofs of stone houses, the making of doors and doorframes, as well as window bars, furniture such as beds, tables, stools, as well as closets, chests or boxes. Justin the Martyr states that Jesus also made plows and yokes for animals. The practice of this trade required a certain amount of dexterity and physical strength, which moves us away from the image of the innocent puny man that pious images present to us of Jesus (for an analysis of tektōn/ ḥārāš, see the Glossary). Note that Matthew (13:55) reproduces this verse, but makes Jesus the carpenter's son, his father. This should not be surprising since a trade was practiced from father to son.

Marias (Mary)
All the evangelists, with the exception of John, agree on giving the name Mary to the mother of Jesus (Mt = 5; Mk = 1; Lk = 12; Jn = 0). Luke and Matthew do so in their infancy narrative. Mark is the only one to name her during the ministry of Jesus, taken up by Matthew in a parallel passage. It is surprising that John is content to say "mother of Jesus" (Jn 2:1,3,5,12; 6:42; 19:25-27) without ever naming her, for example at Cana, and especially in the scene where he entrusts her to the beloved disciple. Her name is also mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (1: 14) where Luke informs us that she was assiduous in prayer with the Eleven. It may be noted that the spelling of Mary in Greek varies between Maria (Mk 1: 16.18.20; 2: 11; Mk 6: 3; Lk 1: 41), typical in the Greek world, and Mariam (Mk 3:55; Lk 1:; 2:, an echo of the Hebrew name Miryām. Why these variations? It's hard to answer this question, because there doesn't seem to be any logic: for example, Matthew uses Maria to refer to Mary Magdalene in 27:56, but uses Mariam four verses later (27:61) to refer to the same person. Mark uses only Maria to refer to either the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, or the other Mary. Luke, in his infancy narrative of Jesus, uses only Mariam to refer to Jesus' mother, but uses only Maria during Jesus' ministry to refer to either his mother, Mary Magdalene, or the other Mary, reserving Mariam only for Martha's sister. In the Acts of the Apostles, the word appears twice, first as Mariam to refer to Jesus' mother (1:14), then as Maria to refer to Mark's mother (12:12).

Noun Maria or Mariam in the Bible
adelphos (brother)
The question arises: what meaning is given to brother (adelphos)? Technically, the Greek word adelphos means a biological brother. But the question of Jesus' biological siblings has become a disputed issue between Catholics and Protestants, with the former giving it the meaning of half-brothers or cousins, and the latter the meaning of actual siblings. This question is linked to another question, that of Mary's perpetual virginity, i.e. that of never having had sexual relations. What does the analysis of today's best biblical scholars reveal?

Let us take the text of Matthew. It is Joseph who gives Jesus his name, and by the same token, accepts the paternity and gives him the Davidic descent ("and he did not know her until the day she bore a son, and he called his name Jesus", 1: 25). Of course, the phrase "he did not know her (he did not have sexual relations) until the day" is ambiguous, because what does "until the day" mean? Clearly, Joseph did not have sexual relations with Mary from the moment he realized that she was pregnant until the day she gave birth. But what about afterwards? Let's look at his version of the passage we are analyzing: "Is this not the carpenter's son? Is his mother not named Mary, and his brothers James, Joses, Simon and Judas? (13: 55). The fact that he names the brothers and sisters with the biological mother gives the impression that he is really on the biological level, especially since he does not name Joseph, who would not be the biological father. Finally, in 12:46-50, people mention that his mother and brothers want to talk to him, but Jesus replies that his true mother and brothers are those who do the will of God; this aphorism would lose all its force if the first part did not refer to blood brothers. It is therefore highly probable that Mary, after Jesus, had other children.

St. Paul helps us to firm up our conclusion, for he uses the expression "James, the brother (adelphos) of the Lord" (Gal 1:19). Now, Paul distinguishes well between the two Greek words adelphos (brother) and anepsios (cousin): "Aristarchus, my fellow captive, greets you, and Mark, the cousin (anepsios) of Barnabas" (Col 4:10). In another letter, he refers again to the brothers of Jesus: "Would we not have the right to take with us a Christian woman like the other apostles, the brothers (adelphoi) of the Lord and Cephas? " (1 Cor 9:5). Thus, James was so well known as the brother of Jesus that even the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus (Antiquities, 20, 197-203), who is nevertheless unfamiliar with the New Testament, refers to "James, the brother of Jesus." On the subject, see the Jesuit Joseph Meier who considers that Mary had at least 6 children (the four sons named by Mark and Matthew, and the fact that the word sister was plural) and credits St. Jerome in the late 4th century with introducing the idea of Mary's perpetual virginity and thereby interpreting brother by cousin.

Iakōbou (James)
Like Mary, James is a common name. It comes from the Hebrew yaʿăqōb which became either Jacob or James. In the Synoptics (the name James never appears in John, only the mention "son of Zebedee" is found in Jn 21:2), five James are mentioned.

  1. First there is James, one of the Twelve disciples, brother of John and son of Zebedee (e.g. Mk 4:21; Mk 1:19; Lk 5:10; Acts 1:13).
  2. And, among the Twelve disciples, there is another James, identified as the son of Alpheus (Mk 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:15; Acts 1:13).
  3. Then there is our James, whom Mark presents as Jesus' brother (taken up by Matthew 13:55 and not by Luke).
  4. Then there is the James who is the father of Jude (mentioned only by Luke in his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles), one of the Twelve according to Luke (Lk 6:16; Acts 1:13), unknown to Mark and Matthew who speak instead of Thaddaeus.
  5. Finally, there is James the Less, son of a Mary and brother of Joses (Mk 15:40), taken up by Matthew without the qualifier "little" (27:56, but Joses becomes Joseph under his pen) and Luke (24:10, but Joses has disappeared).

What do we know about this James? He was considered a pillar and a leader of the Jerusalem community, since, according to the Acts of the Apostles, Peter, released from prison, asks to be informed about him (Acts 12:7), and Paul, after his conversion, goes to Jerusalem to meet him after Peter (Gal 1:19). He too experienced the risen Jesus, but after Peter and the Twelve, and after the 500 brothers (1 Cor 15:7). As leader of the mother community in Jerusalem, he plays a decisive role in the so-called Council of Jerusalem, where decisions had to be made about the minimum requirements for non-Jewish converts to the Christian faith. Luke puts in his mouth the final decision (Acts 15:13-21) of the Jerusalem community, and it is to him that Paul reports on his return from the mission (Acts 21:18). But he represents the conservative and traditionalist side of the Christian community, so much so that Paul has to denounce the pressure of those around him who want to maintain the segregation between people of Jewish and Gentile origin during the Eucharistic celebrations (Gal 2:12). Tradition attributes to him the writing of the epistle of James. The quality of the Greek of this epistle makes it doubtful, but the very Jewish ideas that are developed in it, as well as a warning against certain ideas of Paul, make it likely that an educated scribe from his entourage put his thought into it. If Flavius Josephus is to be believed (Antiquities 20, 197-203), he died tragically by stoning around the year 61 or 62, at the behest of the high priest Ananius ben Anan (Joseph Caiaphas' brother-in-law), during that period of unrest which preceded the Roman intervention and would lead to the fall of Jerusalem in 70.

Iōsētos (Joses)
This name comes from the Hebrew yôsēp, which is sometimes translated as Joset, sometimes as Joses. There is little to say about this name other than that it recurs in Mark at the end of the passion narrative as the son of a woman named Mary and the brother of James the younger (15:40; see also 15:47). He is probably another Joses, a fairly common name that seems a variant of Joseph (Iōsēph), since in his parallel passages Matthew speaks of Joseph rather than Joses (Mt 13:55; 27:56). Nothing else is known about this brother of Jesus.

Iouda (Judas)
The same Greek name Ioudas, which translates the Hebrew yěhûdâ, is translated into English in multiple ways: Judas, Judah and Jude. This name appears in eleven different occasions:

  1. Ioudas appears in the genealogy of Matthew: it is Judah, the son of Jacob (1, 2)
  2. Ioudas appears in the genealogy of Luke: it is Judah, son of a certain Joseph (Lk 3, 30)
  3. Ioudas refers to the kingdom of Judah, the southern part of Palestine, of which Jerusalem was the capital (Mt 2:6)
  4. Ioudas refers to Judah, one of the twelve tribes or clans of Israel whose namesake was Judah son of Jacob (Mt 2:6)
  5. Ioudas, in the most frequent way, names the one who handed over Jesus to the Jewish authorities, the one designated under the name of Judas Iscarioth, son of Simon Iscarioth (according to John, Iscarioth perhaps referring to a localition)
  6. Ioudas is also the name given to one of the brothers of Jesus (Mc 6:3 || Mt 13:55), which is translated either as Jude or Judas
  7. Ioudas is also the name of one of the Twelve chosen by Jesus (Lk 6:16; Jn 14:22; Acts 1:13), who is said to be the son of a certain James, and which the NRSV translate as Judas
  8. Ioudas refers to the one better known as Judas the Galilean, who fomented an insurrection against the Romans around the year 6 or 7 and is said to be the source of the Zealot movement (Acts 5, 37)
  9. Ioudas is the name of the man who gave shelter to Paul in Damascus immediately after his conversion (Acts 9, 11)
  10. Ioudas, also known as Barsabbas, a prophet in the Christian community, was one of those who accompanied Paul to Antioch with Silas, in order to communicate the decision of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15, 22)
  11. Ioudas is finally the author of this epistle which is called: the epistle of Jude, who presents himself as the brother of James, and therefore brother of Jesus (Jude 1, 1)

Nothing is known of this Jude or Judas, the brother of Jesus, except that tradition attributes to him this epistle, called the epistle of Jude. This short letter of only one chapter is marked by an apocalyptic atmosphere and very Jewish features. Like the letter attributed to James, the other brother of Jesus, it may not have been written by Jude himself, but by a scribe of his entourage, but it must have enjoyed a certain notoriety in conservative and Jewish Christian circles.

Simōnos (Simon)
Simon or Simeon are the translation of the Hebrew: šimʿôn. This is another very common name in the Jewish world.

  1. Simōn is the name of one of the Twelve, nicknamed Peter (Mt 4:18)
  2. Simōn is also the name of another of the Twelve, who is called Simon the Canaanite (Mt 10:4) or the Zealot (Lk 6:15)
  3. Simōn refers to one of Jesus' brothers (Mk 6: 3)
  4. Simōn is the name of a leper in Bethany to whom Jesus went to eat and on whom a woman poured perfume of great price (Mk 14: 3)
  5. Simōn called Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus, helped Jesus carry his cross (Mk 15: 21)
  6. Simōn is also the name of a Pharisee to whom Jesus was invited to eat and where a woman covered Jesus' feet with tears and kisses and anointed him with perfume (Lk 7:40)
  7. Simōn is the name of the father of Judas Iscarioth (Jn 6: 71)
  8. Simōn refers to a man from a town in Samaria who practiced magic and became so attached to Philip that he later asked to be baptized
  9. Simōn finally refers to a tanner of Joppa with whom Peter lived for some time

This Simon, the brother of Jesus, despite the fact that he is mentioned in Mark and Matthew, has not left any trace in history.

adelphai (sisters)
The word "sister" must be interpreted in the biological sense (see the analysis above on the word "brother"). And since the word is in the plural, we must admit that there were at least two. It is not surprising that their names are not mentioned, since the women had no real social status. The sisters of Jesus have left no trace in history. But all this helps us to understand that Jesus was born into a normal family.

eskandalizonto (they took offense)
The word skandalizō (Mt = 10; Mk = 8; Lk = 2; Jn = 2) literally means: to cause to stumble, to be an occasion of falling, to cause to sin. In the New Testament, it is always connected to the loss of faith, as we see in Paul who apostrophizes the Corinthians who allow themselves to eat meat sacrificed to idols, to the great scandal of the other members of the Christian community, and to whom he says: "Therefore, if any food should cause the fall (skandalizō) of my brother, I will do without meat forever, so that I may not cause the fall (skandalizō) of my brother" (1 Cor 8:13). So when Mark says that the people of Nazareth were "scandalized" about him, he means to assert that the people of Nazareth were unable to believe in Jesus because he was a man like them. This means that if Jesus had been very different, if he had come from very far away, the Nazarenes might have believed in him.

v. 4 Jesus told his disciples that a prophet is despised only in his homeland, his kinsmen, and his family.

Literally: And was saying to them the Jesus that a prophet (prophētēs) is not without honor (atimos) if not in hometown (patridi) of him and among the relatives (syngeneusin) of him and in the house (oikia) of him.

prophētēs (prophet)
First of all, one gets the impression that this scene in Nazareth is only meant to teach the disciples. In his introduction, Mark was careful to say that his disciples were accompanying him. And as soon as the reaction of the Nazarenes is expressed, Jesus turns to his disciples to draw a lesson from what has just happened. That lesson concerns the fate of the prophet.

The first question to ask: what is a prophet? The Greek word prophētēs is a contraction of two words pro (before, in place of) and phēmi (to declare, to say). The prophet is one who is the spokesman for another, who proclaims on his behalf. In the Jewish world, the prophet is first and foremost God's spokesman: he conveys God's thought, his purposes, his will. In Hebrew, he is called: nābîʾ. It will have been noticed that very often in the Old Testament, their word is introduced by: "Oracle or word of the Lord". The believers considered them as men of God, speaking in his name, acting in his name. But the prophets were far from creating consensus, because they often confronted the way of thinking and acting of people. We know the most famous ones: Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Nahum, Haggai, Abdia, Zechariah, Malachi, Daniel.

Now, Mark puts into the mouth of Jesus this saying, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house'". There is something remarkable about this phrase: it is found in one form or another in all four evangelists.

  • Mark 6: 4: "Then Jesus said to them, 'Prophets (prophētēs) are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house'"
  • Matthew 13: 57: "And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, 'Prophets (prophētēs) are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house'"
  • Luke 4: 24: "And he said, 'Truly I tell you, no prophet (prophētēs) is accepted in his hometown'"
  • John 4: 44: "(for Jesus himself had testified that a prophet (prophētēs) has no honor in his own country)"

Accepting the widely accepted theory of the independence of Mark and John's sources, one is left with two independent sources on the claim that a prophet is not honored in his homeland. According to Mark, literally, a prophet is not without (a-) honor (timios), except in his homeland, in his kinship, and in his house. Matthew picks up the same phrase from Mark, but eliminates the mention of kinship. Luke took up Mark's idea, but preferred the notion of acceptance to that of honor, and kept only the reference to the homeland. John draws from a different source than Mark, but this source has the same idea of honor and the same reference to the homeland. What does this mean? We have here a case of multiple attestation, and it is very likely that we are dealing here with something that goes back to the historical Jesus, who would have recognized that he had difficulty in having his worth recognized in the Galilee where he was born and grew up. As a corollary, we can affirm that Jesus perceived his action in the prophetic line.

All this is confirmed by other texts, first in a passage proper to Luke (13:33): "Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet (prophētēs) to be killed outside of Jerusalem.'". Such an indirect statement is also found in Document Q: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets (prophētēs) and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" (Mt 23:37 || Lk 13:34). It is therefore very likely that Jesus used prophetic language to describe himself.

All this begs the question: how was Jesus perceived by his audience? If Mark is to be believed, the people perceived Jesus primarily as a prophet: "Jesus went away with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and on the way he asked his disciples this question, 'Who do the people say I am?' And they answered him, 'John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets (prophētēs)" (Mk 8:27-28). Matthew (16:13-14) and Luke (9:18-19) repeat this statement. Earlier, Mark had presented us with a similar statement on the occasion of Herod's questioning of Jesus: "King Herod heard of him, for his name had become famous, and they said, 'John the Baptist has risen from the dead; hence the miraculous powers that are displayed in his person'". But others said, 'It is Elijah." And others said, "It is a prophet (prophētēs), like one of the prophets (prophētēs) of old'" (Mk 6:14-15). Luke (9:7) reproduces this statement, but not Matthew, who considers it a duplicate of the previous statement. But would Mark be the only one to give us this echo of people's perception? Matthew and Luke, on the contrary, make their own independent statements:

  • Matthew 21: 11: "The crowds were saying, 'This is the prophet (prophētēs) Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee'"
  • Matthew 21: 46: "They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet (prophētēs)"
  • Luke 7: 16: "Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, 'A great prophet (prophētēs) has risen among us!' and 'God has looked favorably on his people!'"
  • Luke 7: 39: "Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet (prophētēs), he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him - that she is a sinner'"

But it is not only Mark, Matthew or Luke who report this perception of the people about Jesus, there is also John:

  • John 4: 19: "The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet (prophētēs)"
  • John 9: 17: "So they said again to the blind man, 'What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.' He said, 'He is a prophet (prophētēs)'"

The presence of all these different and independent sources supports with a high degree of probability that, historically, Jesus presented himself as a prophet and was perceived as a prophet. And the very fact that he performed healings could associate him with prophets like Elijah who also performed healings.

However, we note that with time, probably within the believing communities, this perception of Jesus as a prophet took on a particular color, that of associating him with Moses, or rather with God's promise in Deuteronomy (18: 18) to send a prophet like Moses. This is evidenced by the latest of the gospels, that of John, and the Acts of the Apostles:

  • John 6: 14: "When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, 'This is indeed the prophet (prophētēs) who is to come into the world'"
  • John 7: 40: "When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, "This is really the prophet (prophētēs)"
  • John 7: 52: "They replied, 'Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet (prophētēs) is to arise from Galilee'"
  • Acts 3: 22-23: "Moses said, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet (prophētēs) like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you. And it will be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet (prophētēs) will be utterly rooted out of the people.'"
  • Acts 7: 37: "This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, 'God will raise up a prophet (prophētēs) for you from your own people as he raised me up.'"

In the Jewish world, prophetic language was the most accessible for appropriating the personality and action of Jesus. This figure could easily be associated with that of the promised Messiah, either in the person of the successor of Moses, as we have just seen, or in the person of the successor of David (see Acts 2:30 where David is presented as a prophet).

Noun prophētēs in the Gospel-Acts
atimos (without honor)
The Greek word means: without honor, despised. In the gospels, Mark is the only one to introduce this word, and he does so only here, copied by Matthew. The only other case is that of Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:10 where he tries to deflate the pride-filled balloon of some Corinthians by insisting on the plight of the apostles, and especially his own, where they are displayed in the last rank, appear as fools, weak and despised people (atimos). Note that, literally, this word is formed from the privative a and the adjective timios (of great value, dear, precious, honored). It therefore does not describe an action, but a lack of action: that of not honoring someone or not finding value in them. Thus, Jesus does not say that one insults the prophet or spits on him, but more simply that one finds no value in him, that he is unimportant, a totally banal being.

patridi (hometown)
Mark's sequence is clear: from larger circle to smaller circle. But what does each of the circles contain? We have already analyzed the meaning of patris, which refers to its city of origin, i.e. Nazareth.

syngeneusin (relatives)
Syngenēs means: relative, kinship. This is the only use in Mark here and is infrequent in the gospels (Mt = 0; Mk = 1; Lk = 6; Jn = 1). This word designates those with whom one has blood ties, i.e. uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces. For example, Elizabeth is called "your relative " (syngenēs) by the angel Gabriel as he addresses Mary (Lk 1:36). These blood ties are differentiated from immediate blood ties, such as father, mother, brothers, and sisters: "You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives (syngenēs) and friends; and they will put some of you to death" (21:16). We see this in Paul's greetings in his epistle to the Romans, as he names in turn Andronicus, Junias (16:7), Herodion (16:11), Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater (16:21) as his relatives (syngenēs).

Noun syngenēs in the Bible
oikia (house)
Oikia means: house, building, household. Here is a very frequent word in the Gospels (Mt = 25; Mk = 18; Lk = 24; Jn = 5). But it designates above all the physical dwelling, the building, the place where people live. However, the movement of thought here refers rather to the symbolic meaning of the house, i.e. to the inhabitants of the house. In the gospels, this is infrequent, but not unheard of. Thus, when Jesus says, "And if a house (oikia) is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand" (Mark 3:25), he does not mean the building, but the family that inhabits it; moreover, he then applies this image to those who belong to Satan and the possibility of their being divided. In Luke 10:5, when Jesus says, "Peace to this house! ", he obviously means the inhabitants of the house, not the physical building. When the evangelist John writes, "he believed, he with his whole house (oikia)," he is obviously not referring to the building, but to the family residing in it. Who are these people who live in a house? One can easily guess the parents and their children. But we also find the extended family, as we see in the fact that in the house of Simon and Andrew also lived Simon's mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-30).

Thus, the target of Jesus' criticism is represented by three concentric circles: first the whole town, then all the uncles, aunts, cousins, in short all those who have a certain blood relationship, and finally the people who live in the same house, i.e. the father, the mother, and a number of dependents such as children or in-laws.

Nouns oikia and oikos in Mark
v. 5 Thus he was unable to do there any extraordinary thing, except some healings by laying on hands.

Literally: And he was not able (ouk edynato) to do there any work of power, if not [on] a few sick [people] (arrōstois) having laid the hands (epitheis tas cheiras) he healed.

ouk edynato (he was not able)
The word dynamai, a word Mark likes, is sort of trite, used in all sorts of ways (Mt = 11; Mk = 22; Lk = 15; Jn = 15). What is remarkable about our phrase is that it presents us with a limitation of Jesus, a form of incapacity. While the evangelists insist on Jesus' extraordinary abilities, here we are talking about a limit to his abilities. Mark is the only one to do so. Of course, there is this special case here of a limit to his ability to heal. But Mark presents us with two other situations where Jesus fails to perform an action:
  • Mark 3: 20: "He comes to the house and again the crowd gathers, so that they could not (dynamai) even eat bread"
  • Mark 7: 24: "He left there and went to the territory of Tyre. When he entered a house, he did not want anyone to know about it, but he could not (dynamai) remain unaware.

The last two examples are less dramatic, but they are nonetheless significant, because the other evangelists did not see fit to take them up, as if they tainted the figure of our hero. Only John speaks of Jesus' inability, but in a completely different context and with a completely different meaning: "I can do nothing (dynamai) of myself" (John 5:30); this is to express Jesus' perfect communion with his Father.

Mark therefore insists on the importance of collaboration between Jesus and his audience: his action is dependent on their faith. We are far from a magical world. For part of the success of the healing comes from the petitioner.

arrōstois (sick people)
There is little to say about the word arrōstos (sick, weak), except that it is very rare in the New Testament. It occurs twice more in Mark, once in Matthew, and once in Paul.
  • Mark 6: 13: "And they cast out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil (arrōstos) and healed them"
  • Mark 16: 18: "they shall take hold of serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick (arrōstos) and they shall be healed."
  • Matthew 14: 14: "When he went ashore, he saw a large crowd and he had pity on them; and he healed their sick (arrōstos)"
  • 1 Corinthians 11: 30: "That is why there are many weak and sick (arrōstos) among you, and many have died"

The word arrōstos appears in a summary context, where Jesus' action is summarized. For, usually, the evangelist is more specific about the disease: it is a paralytic, it is an epileptic, it is a blind man, it is a leper, etc.

epitheis tas cheiras (having laid the hands)
The gesture of laying hands goes back to the beginning of time. The hand is a symbol of power, and laying hands on someone seems to be a gesture of power transmission. Mark has the most scenes of Jesus laying on his hands in the gospels (Mt = 3; Mk = 7; Lk = 1; Jn = 0). Each time, it is a healing scene: the centurion's daughter (5, 23); the sick (6: 5); a deaf man who is almost mute (7: 32); a blind man (8: 23.25). It is always Jesus who acts, with the exception of 16:18, which is an addition to the gospel and summarizes the Christian activity. It is always the laying on of both hands, with the exception of 7: 32 where Mark writes: "and they beg him to lay his hand on him (deaf)"; it is difficult to distinguish this gesture from the other gestures. A similar case is found in Matthew: "My daughter is dead just now; but come and lay your hand on her and she will live" (9:18). We can simply say that this mention is in the mouth of the petitioner, not in the description of Jesus' actions. It is worth mentioning a scene unique to Matthew, the one in which Jesus lays his hands on some children while praying (9:15), presumably to call down God's blessing on them.

The act of laying on hands will be used for other activities with the Christian community. Of course, the action of healing will continue: Ananias will lay hands on Paul to restore his sight (Acts 9:12.17), and Paul himself will heal Publius' father in this way (Acts 28:8). But now it will be part of the rite of giving the Holy Spirit to those who have received baptism (Acts 8:17; 19:6). And above all, it will be used to send out on mission (Acts 13:3) or to confirm the assignment of community functions (Acts 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:22).

Historically, it is difficult to deny that Jesus performed healings (see Meier), and it is likely that he used the methods of the healers of the time, among them that of laying on hands. Mark would be the best witness to this, and it is with the evolution of theology, as seen in Matthew and Luke, and especially in John, that there has been a tendency to eliminate this similarity to the healers of the time and to present someone who heals only by his word.

Verb tithēmi in the Gospels-Acts
v. 6 Jesus was astonished at their lack of faith. Subsequently, he traveled around the surrounding villages to teach.

Literally: And he was amazed (ethaumazen) because of the unbelief (apistian) of them. And he was going about (periēgen) the villages (kōmas) around (kyklō) teaching (didaskōn).

ethaumazen (he was amazed)
Although we encounter thaumazō (to be amazed or astonished, to marvel, to wonder) a number of times, the word is not widespread in the gospels (Mt = 7; Mk = 4; Lk = 13; Jn = 6) and throughout the New Testament (Acts = 5; Paul = 2; Epistles of John = 1; Jude = 1; Revelation = 4). What is remarkable about the thirty uses of this verb in the gospels is that it is always related to Jesus, with two exceptions (Lk 1:21: the crowd that is surprised at the delay of Zechariah; Lk 1:63: the crowd that is surprised at the name of John). Let's look at two sets, those where Jesus himself is amazed, and those where people are amazed about Jesus.

  1. Jesus is amazed

    It is very rare that Jesus is amazed. In fact, there are only two instances. Positively, Matthew and Luke (and thus probably Document Q) tell of Jesus' reaction to the centurion of Capernam who asks him to heal his child, adding that there is no need for Jesus to go to him, since by his word alone he can do so: "Hearing this, Jesus was amazed (thaumazō) and said to those who followed him, "Truly, I tell you, in no one have I found such faith in Israel" (Matthew 8:10); see also Luke 7:9.

    Negatively, there is our verse, "Jesus was amazed (thaumazō) at their lack of faith." Note that here we have a verb in the imperfect tense, and thus an unfinished action, which continues in time. What does this mean? The evangelist seems to be saying that this was a continuing amazement in Jesus, and a form of disappointment, the lack of faith observed in the people about him.

    It will have been noticed that the only two cases where Jesus' astonishment is mentioned, either in a positive or negative way, concern faith. What does this mean? The first thing is clear: faith seems to be for Jesus the fundamental basis of life, with which one can access life, without which one can be lost. We can easily imagine that this was the secret of his life, the secret of his action, the secret of his message. Why is faith so fundamental? Probably because life is a mystery, it has so many difficult things that it can easily crush someone like the roaring waves breaking the rock faces, so that on certain days we no longer feel the volcano of love at the source of all things. The experience of athletes in competitive sports shows us that the final result is more about what happens in the mind than in the muscles.

  2. People wonder about Jesus. These cases can be grouped into six categories.

    1. The people are amazed at the healings performed by Jesus: an epileptic (Mk 5:20; Lk 9:43), a mute man (Mt 9:33; Lk 11:14); the crippled and the blind (Mt 15:31); a paralytic (Jn 7:21)

    2. People are surprised by Jesus' behavior: a Pharisee in front of Jesus who does not make ablutions before eating (Lk 11, 38); the disciples in front of Jesus who speaks alone with a woman (Lk 4, 27); the crowd in front of Jesus who teaches without having studied (Lk 7, 15); Pilate in front of Jesus' silence during his trial (Mt 27, 14)

    3. People are amazed at Jesus' words: his opponents at his answer about paying taxes to Caesar (Mt 22:22 || Lk 20:26); the Nazarenes at his announcement of the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy (Lk 4:22); Nicodemus at the need to be born from above (Jn 3:7)

    4. The disciples are amazed at Jesus' power over nature: he stills the wind and the sea during a storm (Mt 8:27; Lk 8:25); he makes a fig tree dry in an instant (Mt 21:20)

    5. People are amzed about what is said about Jesus (infancy narratives in Luke): the people of Bethlehem about what the shepherds say about the child Jesus after the angel's announcement (Lk 2:18); Mary and Joseph after Simeon's speech in the temple (Lk 2:33)

    6. People are amazed about the events surrounding his death and resurrection: Pilate is amazed about Jesus' premature death (Mk 15:44); Peter is amazed about the empty tomb (Lk 24:12); the resurrection of Jesus (Jn 5:20) and the resurrection of the dead (Jn 5:28) is a source of amazement; the disciples meet the risen Jesus (Lk 24:41)

    What can we learn from this analysis? Jesus was a disruptive force by his actions, his words, his behavior. Mark uses thaumazō the least. But throughout his gospel, he will evoke the same idea in multiple ways, among others through the many questions Jesus will raise (e.g., 1:27: "What is this? A new teaching, given by authority! ", or 9:10: "asking among themselves what it meant to "rise from the dead." "). And above all, he is the one who has best lifted the veil on the human face of Jesus, especially with the scene in this passage where Jesus is surprised and disappointed that people do not have faith in him and his message.

Verb thaumazō in the Gospel-Acts
apistian (unbelief)
The word apistia (infidelity, unbelief) is formed from the concatenation of two words, the a privative, and pistis (faith, trust), thus literally: without faith or trust. Here is a very rare word. In the Gospels, it is found practically only in Mark (Mt = 1; Mk = 3; Lk = 0; Jn = 0), since the occurrence in Matthew is a reworking of our scene in Mark. In addition to our passage, the word appears in the scene where the father of an epileptic child, after being rebuked by Jesus for the expression "if you can," cries out, "I believe! Come to the aid of my lack of faith (apistia)! " (9: 24). Finally, it appears in this addition to Mark's gospel: "he (the risen Jesus) rebuked them for their unbelief (apistia) and their stubbornness in not trusting those who had seen him raised" (16: 14). Its twin brother, the adjective apistos (unbeliever, infidel), is also very rare (Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 1). Let's say right away that the word appears in the scene of the epileptic child in Mark just mentioned, as Jesus throws to the people, "Unbelieving children (apistos)" (9:19), which is repeated by Matthew (17:17) and Luke (9:41). So there are only two other independent passages, Lk 12:46 (the parable of the unfaithful steward who lost faith when the master returned) and Jn 20:27 (the risen Jesus invites Thomas to forsake unbelief and embrace faith). In short, it can be said that Mark is unique in putting on the mouth of Jesus during his ministry the attribute "lack of faith" and "unbelieving" when challenging his audience. One cannot help but see this as a strong challenge to Mark's Christian community.

periēgen (he was going about)
The verb periagō (to go around, to take with one) is used only here in Mark (Mt = 3; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 0), and three times in Matthew, of which twice as a summary of Jesus' action in going around Galilee to teach and heal. It seems to be a catch-all word to summarize Jesus' missionary activity.

kōmas kyklō (villages around)
The words kōmē (town, village, small city) (Mt = 4; Mk = 7; Lk = 12; Jn = 3) and kyklō (in a circle, all around) (Mt = 0; Mk = 3; Lk = 1; Jn = 0) give the impression of a very limited radius of action. Unlike Paul who goes to the big centers like Ephesus, Antioch, Corinth, Rome, the Jesus of Mark concentrates his action in the villages of Galilee. And among his first disciples are Peter and Andrew who are from Bethsaida, which is considered a village (Mark 8:23). When we look at the images of Jesus' preaching, we notice that they are borrowed a lot from the world of the land and its fields (4:3: the sower who went out to sow; 4:26: the seed in the ground that rises by itself; 4:30: mustard seed).

Noun kōmē in the Gospels-Acts
didaskōn (teaching)
Didaskō (teach, instruct) is part of the summary of Jesus' action: he heals and he teaches. For Mark, these two actions go hand in hand: one cannot speak of the Reign of God without demonstrating its transformative power, and one cannot perform a transformative action without expressing its deeper meaning. When he sends his disciples out, it is also to heal and teach (Mark 6:30). This is the Christian mission.

  1. Analysis of the narrative's structure

    Introduction: setting v. 1

    • Jesus is leaving Capernaum for Nazareth (location)
    • His disciples follow him (characters)

    Action of Jesus v. 2a

    • He began to teach in the synagogue on the Sabbath

    People's reaction v. 2b - 3

    • They do not understand the wisdom of his word
    • They do not understand the healings he performs
    • Reason for misunderstanding: he is an ordinary man from the neighborhood
    • Conclusion: they are shocked and refuse his action

    Follow-up from Jesus v. 4 – 5

    • Jesus teaches the disciples about the fate of the prophet: the low value in his milieu
    • Jesus teaches about the mystery of faith
    • Great limit to its ability to heal

    Conclusion v. 6

    • Jesus continues his teaching elsewhere

    There are two points to remember from the analysis of the structure of the story.

    • The story is clearly intended to provide the disciples with a lesson: they should not be surprised at how little impact of the prophet's teaching and action had in his Jewish milieu
    • The action of Jesus is useless without people's faith participation.

  2. Context Analysis

    1. Immediate Context

      Our text is preceded by a scene (Mark 5:21-43) that takes place on the western shore of Lake Galilee and seems to be very close to Capernaum.

      • Request from Jairus, a Synagogue leader, for Jesus to come and lay hands on his dying daughter
      • On the way, suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years, and having heard the reputation of Jesus, a woman comes behind him, touches his garment, and is healed
      • After Jesus asked who had touched him and the woman identified herself, he said to her, "Your faith has saved you"
      • People from Jairus' house tell him not to bother Jesus anymore, because the girl is now dead
      • Jesus said to Jairus, "Just believe"
      • At home, Jesus went to the girl with the father, mother, Peter, James and John, told her to wake up, and the girl began to walk.

      Both narratives are centered on the theme of faith: Jesus tells the woman that it was faith that healed her, Jesus invites Jairus to believe even though he has been told that his daughter is dead. Moreover, it is a typical Mark procedure to have two interlocking narratives, one of which is sandwiched by another which, after being initiated, is interrupted and then resumed. The story in the middle, which is sandwiched (the woman with the bleeding), gives the key to the whole: in this case, it is faith.

      Now we see the connection with the scene in Nazareth where, in contrast, Jesus is surprised at the lack of faith of the people in his midst. Faith is the fundamental basis for life and for living healing.

      Our text is followed by the sending of the Twelve on mission two by two, where Jesus gives them authority over evil forces, invites them to travel light and to live by relying on people welcoming them. This is how the Twelve will launch their call to conversion, cast out demons and heal many people. We can see the link with our text: the Twelve are called to extend the mission of Jesus, to have an action based on people's openess.

      If one had to summarize the context, one could present this structure:

      • Example of attitudes where Jesus is valued by faith in him: in Capernaum, the woman with hemorrhages and Jairus who obtain the requested healing
        • Our story where, in Nazareth, among his own people, Jesus is not valued and cannot do any healing
      • The disciples, sent on mission, are called to face the two attitudes

    2. General Contexte

      We could go back to Mark 3:20 where we witness a scene in Capernaum where Jesus' relatives have come to seize him saying, "He has lost his mind" (3:21). After a brief interruption by a scene (3:22-30) in which scribes from Jerusalem accuse him of being an agent of Beelzebul and of having an unclean spirit, Jesus' mother and brothers appear (3:31-35) and ask him, only to be told: "Whoever among his listeners does the will of God, there goes his brother, his sister, his mother". All this has the effect of removing the value of blood ties and even establishing a distance between Jesus and his immediate family. A similar theme can be seen in our text (Mark 6:1-6).

      Mark then inserts a long sequence that begins with a teaching in parables (4:1-34), followed that same evening by a tumultuous boat trip on the lake caught by a storm as Jesus rebukes his disciples for their lack of faith, followed by a somewhat picturesque scene on the eastern side of the lake among people of Greek culture, where he heals a raging man by expelling the unclean spirits that were inhabiting him into the pigs, arousing great astonishment and a somewhat negative reaction. Then Jesus returns to Capernaum, where the healings of the woman with hemorrhages and of Jairus' daughter take place. This sequence is thus marked by Jesus' teaching (the parables) and his beneficial action for the people (stilling of the storms, the woman with hemorrhages, Jairus' daughter).

      So, our text (Mark 6:1-6) reconnects with the attitude of Jesus' family beyond a great digression about Jesus' teaching and beneficent action. It confirms the debate that he provoked within his own family.

  3. Parallels

    Parallels are based on a literal translation. We have underscored all words from Mark that are also in any other evangelist. In blue are words common to Matthew and Luke. Words from John that are also in another evangelists are in red. We have enclosed texts out of sequence in square brackets [].

    Mark 6Matthew 13Luke 4John
    1a And he came out from there 53 And it happened when Jesus had finished these parables he departed from there.
    1b and he comes into his hometown, and his disciples follow him.54a And having come into his hometown,16a And he came into Nazareth where he was had been brought up
    2a And having happened Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue, 54b he was teaching them in their synagogue 16b and he entered according to his custom on the day of the Sabbaths into the synagogue and he stood up to read.
    2b and many hearing were astonished saying, from where to this (man) these things, and what (is) the wisdom having been given to him, even such works of power are done by his hands?54c so as for them to be astonished and to say, from where to this (man) this wisdom, and the works of power?22a And all were bearing witness to him and were amazed upon the words of grace going out from his mouth
    3a Is not this (guy) the carpenter, the son of the Mary and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? 55 Is not this (guy) the son of the carpenter? (Is) not his mother said Mary? And his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 22b and were saying, Is not this (guy) the son of Joseph?[6: 42 And they were saying, Is not this (guy) Jesus the son of Joseph, of whom we know the father and the mother. How now he says that from the heaven he as descended.]
    3b And are not his sisters here towards us?56 And his sisters are they not all towards us? Thus from where all these things?
    3c And they took offense in him.57a And they took offense in him.
    4 And was saying to them Jesus that a prophet is not without honor if not in his hometown and among his relatives and in his house.57b Then Jesus said to them, a prophet is not without honor if not in hometown and in his house.24 Then he said, Amen I say to you that no prophet is acceptable in his hometown[4: 44 For Jesus himself bore witness that a prophet does not have honor in his own hometown]
    5 And he was not able to do there any work of power, if not (on) a few sick (people) having laid the hands he healed.58a And he did not do there many works of power
    6a And he was amazed because of their unbelief. 58b because of their unbelief.
    6b And he was going about the villages around teaching.[9: 35 And Jesus was going about all the cities and the villages teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and every sickness]

    When we compare the four gospels together, some points stand out clearly:

    • The text about the astonishment of the people as to the origin of this itinerant preacher and healer (Mark 6:3: is he not the carpenter?) must have circulated independently, for it stands alone in very different contexts; and each evangelist inserted it wherever it is convenient in his narrative.

      • Mark inserted it as part of a teaching to his disciples and just before sending them on their mission, after having presented two stories focused on faith. We understand that he makes a connection between the faith necessary to accept what he has to offer and the attitude of the people in his environment who do not have this faith, and so he prepares his disciples to experience the same thing.

      • Matthew followed Mark fairly closely, but his text is tied to the conclusion on the teaching in parable where it is a question of separating the good and the bad, where Jesus invites to draw from his treasure the new and the old; unfortunately, Jesus' family does not have this discernment. The whole thing concludes the first part of his gospel on a sad note, and with the scene of John the Baptist's death that follows and the prospect of Jesus' death, the second part begins.

      • Luke places this sentence at the time of Jesus' first preaching, at the very beginning of his ministry. But the way he puts it in is a bit awkward, because it clashes with the whole atmosphere: while the people witness to him and are amazed at his proclamation of the good news from Isaiah to the point of wonder and joy, the tone changes abruptly with the way Jesus interprets the people's reaction, so much so that in the end he succeeds in arousing the people's anger. Luke adds to this by putting parochial comments into Jesus' mouth: that he did not perform as many miracles in Nazareth as in Capernaum. There is something artificial about this scene, which begins in joy and ends in conflict.

      • John inserts this text at the end of Jesus' discourse on the bread of life as the Jews react strongly to Jesus' claim to be "the bread of life that comes down from heaven." The emphasis is less on knowing his immediate family and more on the fact that he is a human being, and therefore cannot come from heaven.

      This text therefore circulated independently and probably represents a historical echo of the surprise of his immediate family to see him suddenly come out of the ranks and accomplish unprecedented things, as if nothing had prepared him.

    • The saying about the perception of the prophet by the people of his milieu (Mark 6:4: a prophet is not without honor if not in his hometown) also seems to have circulated independently. Of course, Matthew follows Mark, and Luke, who knows Mark, inserted it into the same narrative where the allusion to Jesus' family appears. But John introduces it at the moment when Jesus leaves Samaria, where he has been very successful with the Samaritans, and returns to Galilee. Yet there is no scene of rejection on the horizon. Since the scene that follows is the healing of a royal officer's son in Capernaum, one possible hypothesis is that the saying about the prophet is an introduction to the fact that Jesus' first act on returning to Galilee is to heal the son of a Gentile, not a Jew.

    Let us now read Mark's text against the parallels in order to grasp their particularities.

    • "And he came out from there ". The starting point for going to Nazareth is similar, but not identical: in Mark, Jesus was on the shore of the lake, but has to go to the house of Jairus, which one imagines to be in Capernaum, while in Matthew he taught on the shore of the lake.

    • "and he comes into his hometown". Only Luke explicitly names Nazareth or Nazara. But the identification of Nazareth with hometown is induced by other passages: "And it came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee" (Mark 1:9); "What do you want with us, Jesus the Nazarene? " (Mark 1:24); "When Bartimaeus heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene" (Mark 10:47). Thus, Jesus is identified with Nazareth. This is probably why Luke adds about Nazareth, "where he had been brought up".

    • "and his disciples follow him". We have already emphasized that in Mark the disciples of Jesus are with him from the beginning and accompany him constantly; Jesus' ministry is performed as a team. This undoubtedly allows Mark's audience to better identify with this ministry. Matthew and Luke do not see fit to use this image because of their different theology.

    • "Sabbath". Matthew does not mention that it is the Sabbath, because every good Jew knows that the gathering in the synagogue takes place on the Sabbath, that is obvious. Since Luke is probably addressing a Greek audience, he must give more detail about the ritual in the synagogue, including that of having a reading after which members of the congregation were invited to speak (see Acts 13:15: "After the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them this message, "Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement to say to the people, speak".

    • "and many hearing were astonished (ekplēssō)". As is his habit, Matthew eliminates unnecessary words so to have a more concise formula: "so as for them to be astonished." While Mark uses a word he likes, ekplēssō (to be struck, to be amazed, to be astonished), taken up also by Matthieu, Luke prefers thaumazō (to be astonished, to marvel): "And all were bearing witness to him and were amazed (thaumazō)", a word closer to wonder than to perplexity.

    • "from where to this (man) these things, and what (is) the wisdom having been given to him, even such works of power are done by his hands?". Note that Matthew, again, has simplified the sentence structure with "from where to this (man) this wisdom, and the works of power?"

    • "Is not this (guy) the carpenter". It will have been noticed that the other three evangelists use the more usual formula: "son of" (son of the carpenter, son of Joseph), which was the usual way of naming people in antiquity. It is understandable that Matthew corrected Mark. But the question remains: why does Mark not name Joseph, when he names Mary? For him, Joseph does not exist: he never refers to the father of Jesus or pronounces the name of Joseph. Yet, on a few occasions, he has the chance to list the members of Jesus' family: "His mother and his brothers come and, standing outside, they called him" (3:31). What does this mean? One quite plausible hypothesis is that Joseph would have already died. Even John's formula, "the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? " does not imply that Joseph is alive, since we can know someone who is now dead.

    • "a prophet is not without honor if not in his hometown and among his relatives and in his house". Matthew has eliminated "relatives," a reference he probably thought unnecessary between hometown and house. Luke preferred "acceptable (dektos)" to "without honor (atimos)," even though the word "honor" probably comes from the older tradition (found in John). First, atimos (literally: worthless, insignificant, unattractive, without honor) goes against his theology where Jesus remains a hero who dazzles everyone (see, for example, the Gethsemane account where his Jesus does not experience the anguish of Mark's). Second, the word dektos (literally: acceptable, pleasant, favorable), a word he is alone in using in the New Testament (Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 2; Jn = 0) allows him to make a pun with Jesus' end of reading from the prophet Isaiah that Luke has just described: "proclaim a favorable year (dektos) of the Lord"; Jesus proclaims a favorable or acceptable year of the Lord, but his own people point to him, the messenger, as unacceptable.

    • "And he was not able to do there any work of power, if not (on) a few sick (people) having laid the hands he healed". Matthew does not like Mark's sometimes crude side, and especially his too great limitation to the power of Jesus. So he replaces "not able ...any work of power" with "not ...many". He also tends to eliminate Mark's sometimes too human portrait of Jesus. For example, here Mark presents Jesus as a village miracle worker who is used to laying on hands during a healing session. Matthew eliminates all these details.

    • "And he was amazed because of their unbelief". Again, presenting Jesus as someone surprised by something makes him too human. Matthew eliminates Jesus' astonishment.

    • "And he was going about the villages around teaching". Mark's sentence is a summary and gives the impression that Jesus limits his action to the small villages around Nazareth. Matthew expands the perspective by eliminating the word "around" and adding "all the cities" and by specifying that his teaching takes place in the synagogues.

  4. Intention of the author when writing this passage

    • A gospel, even if it is composed of older traditions, is carried by a Christian community whose principal evangelist plays the role of catechist. For Mark, a likely hypothesis about his community is that of Rome, which was under severe persecution. There was also a large Jewish community there (see the edict of Claudius ordering all Jews to leave Rome, mentioned in Acts 18:2). So the question arises: why is Mark so keen to put Jesus' immediate family into perspective? First, in our account, there is Jesus' surprise at their lack of faith. Earlier, he presents them rushing to stop him on the pretext that he has lost his mind (3:21), then later, when they want to have access to Jesus, they see their ties to him pushed back in favor of the listeners of his word (3:33-34). What is Mark's intention? We know that, after Easter, the Christian community in Jerusalem had a great reputation, especially with pillars like James, the brother of Jesus, who was perceived as rather conservative. After his conversion, Paul finds it important to go and meet him. And it is possible that the epistle of Jude is an echo of the thoughts of Jude, another brother of Jesus. Mark's approach has the effect to minimize these blood ties and the reputation of the Jerusalem community and contrasts it with the fundamental value of faith. Thus, the community of Rome would have nothing to envy to that of Jerusalem. But above all, blood ties are of no use, which makes it possible to base all true relationships with Jesus and access to the power of the risen Jesus on faith. This is a message for a community that feels persecuted and isolated, and that thinks it would be different if Jesus were physically present.

    • Moreover, the very fact that he insists that the disciples accompany him makes this scene a teaching for the disciples, and thus for the Christian community. Moreover, when Mark writes, "And was saying to them Jesus that a prophet is not without honor if not in his hometown and among his relatives and in his house", the phrase "to them" refers to the disciples. It is these who must understand that, without faith, blood ties are worthless. And then Jesus sends them on a mission to continue his work.

    • Once again, Mark addresses the mystery of faith. When he presents us with a Jesus who is astonished at their lack of faith and insists that Jesus becomes almost powerless under these circumstances, right after the extraordinary scenes of faith of the woman with hemorrhages and Jairus, he is saying this: faith is the key to life. With the exception of the gospel according to John, it is the one that uses the verb "to believe" the most (Mt = 11; Mk = 15; Lk = 9; Jn = 98). This is all the more important for a persecuted community. Let's recall an earlier scene where the disciples wake up Jesus in the boat where they fear to perish and Jesus answers them: "Why are you so afraid? You still don't have faith?" (Mk 4: 40). You cannot get through the hard times without faith. And in the past, people may have experienced physical closeness with Jesus and even had blood ties, but all of this did not work out unless they were willing to believe in him.

  5. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

    1. Suggestions from the different symbols in the story

      • "He comes into his hometown". His hometown is his familiar world, his clan, the universe of his habits. It is the one where our place and identity are well known, where people know exactly what to expect from us. It is the world without surprises. At first glance, we think we feel comfortable in such an environment. It may even appear to be ideal for our well-being. But at the same time, isn't it all suffocating? Doesn't it prevent us from growing? Is all this not the opposite of the very reality of God? How does this compare to the destiny of Jesus?

      • "many hearing were astonished". A surprise can be good or bad. A good surprise is unexpected good news, a gift that we did not expect, a mark of attention or affection that we did not expect. On the contrary, a bad surprise is bad news that suddenly pinches our heart, it is a disappointment in front of someone we expected so much, it is the discovery of facts or events that make us feel horrible. I work in government, where senior management does not want any surprises. But the question remains: how do we react to a surprise? Some people refuse to be surprised at all, saying, "It's not true!". Even when faced with a good surprise, they will say, "I smell a rat!". Anger in the face of a bad surprise is a way of denying it. Yet, aren't we called to welcome every surprise as a teacher who educates us? What would happen if we took the time to live each surprise thoroughly? What would have happened if that had been the attitude of the people of Nazareth?

      • "Isn't he the carpenter?". In our world, there is a hierarchy of professions and backgrounds. There is a difference between being a doctor and being a plumber. There is a difference between being an engineer and being a car mechanic. There is a difference between being a university professor and a kindergarten teacher. The environment in which you work is also important. If you work in government for a minister, or in the archdiocese for a monsignor, or in a prestigious law office, all of these are rated higher than if you are a guard in a prison, a manager in a bar, or even a self-employed lawyer at home. This whole world of perceptions is dangerous: because it conditions our judgment of the value of people and things, it limits what we can learn from people and situations, and basically, it prevents us from entering life. What would a world be like where any profession or background was allowed to truly enter our universe? Wouldn't we be closer to God?

      • "And he was not able to do there any work of power". This is the image of our powerlessness without the collaboration of others. All this is typical of the human world: in our interaction with others, we are not all-powerful. Whether we are talking about parent-child, boss-employee, neighbor-neighbor, friend-friend relationships. Even Jesus hit walls when faith in him was not present. Every successful interaction starts with a relationship of trust. What would the world be like if this type of relationship existed? Doesn't it begin at home? And how can we establish such a relationship with God if it doesn't exist in our homes?

      • "And he was going about the villages around teaching". The progress of humanity is based on teaching: it is the sharing of what one has discovered, learned and done. It is important to teach on all levels: psychological, philosophical, sexual, technical, practical, religious, etc. Jesus saw this as a mission. What about us? A TV commercial presents a situation where a parent doesn't talk to his teenage son about getting in the car to see friends where drugs will be used. The message is clear: this is a mistake, we need to talk. What is our position? Do we speak out? Is this not a service to others?

    2. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

      The challenge here is to consider how an evangelical passage can shed light on events such as these:

      • Internationally, Greece's economic difficulties and the possibility of its exit from the Eurozone are attracting attention. The Greek government is accusing the International Monetary Fund of terrorizing them. The magnitude of the situation seems a far cry from the gospel story of a prophet's near-failure in his environment. Yet, in both cases, are we not faced with a failure of the trust relationship? Without trust, no miracle can happen.

      • Global warming has become a global issue, so much so that even the Pope finds it important to get involved by publishing the encyclical "Praise Be to You". At first, many people were incredulous about the human role in this situation. But the greatest difficulty in the honest search for truth is the possible obligation to change our lifestyle. To be authentic is to constantly adjust your life to what you are learning. The people of Nazareth did not do this.

      • We have no control over natural disasters. Right now, floods are hitting all over the world. The city of Stonehaven in Scotland is flooded. Birmingham, Alabama, is at risk from heavy rains. These are examples of events that take us by surprise. How do we react in such situations? There are those who remain in disbelief and wish it didn't exist, to the point of being unable to have the right reflexes. There are others who say: that's how it is, what do we do now? Of course, these are extraordinary events, but they are a reflection of what is happening on a small scale, in Nazareth, for example.

      • On a personal level, we are experiencing the departure of our daughter with her husband and our granddaughter for work reasons. A hundred and twenty-five miles away, we will not see them as often. It is a small death. We believe that they will grow up in this new environment. We will have to adjust, live a little differently. All this may seem very trivial. But it is one of the many examples of what makes up our lives, and which we must constantly welcome. Yet, it is how we respond to these situations that allows us to either grow or regress. In Jesus' time, it is easy to imagine that those who welcomed him had previously welcomed a thousand and one situations in their lives and had agreed to grow.


-André Gilbert, Gatineau, July 2015