Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

A community authorized by Jesus to speak and act on his behalf

dusty sandals
Photo by Joan MM on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

July 7, 2024

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Commentary on Mark 6:1-13

One of the more unnerving aspects of Mark’s narrative is that people we might expect to grasp Jesus’ significance end up failing to do so. Presumed insiders expect the wrong things from Jesus and turn out to be outsiders.

That Markan tendency ought to inject a large dose of humility—if not faithful discomfort—into those of us who preach and those to whom we preach. Jesus will do his thing, whether it matches expectations or not. Frequently, it’s “not.”

Jesus receives a cold reception in Nazareth (which Mark refers to only as “his hometown,” but see 1:9). That’s familiar to Gospel readers, expressed most starkly in Luke 4:16–30 (see also Matthew 13:54–58; John 4:44). It reminds us of an earlier scene in Mark, in which Jesus’ family comes to seize him, worried about his sanity, and he effectively declares himself to be part of a different kinship circle (Mark 3:19b–21, 31–35).

Jesus’ former neighbors do not deny that he does and says amazing things. Either their initial wonder morphs into skepticism or, more likely, the astonishment is an expression of the umbrage they feel toward him.

I imagine their thoughts along the lines of, “Who does this guy think he is? We know all about how badly he treated his poor family a little while ago. What kind of son leaves behind his mother and siblings to lead a movement that’s probably going to get him and a bunch of people in trouble? He was better off staying home and continuing to work as a carpenter [a better translation of tektōn may be day laborer or stonemason].” The “offense” they take entails rejection or disengagement (skandalizō, which means “to stumble,” means the same also in 4:17; 14:27, 29). We’re witnessing more than confusion or hurt feelings.

Jesus interprets the rejection as part of a prophet’s job description. His explanation of what happens to him was widely proverbial, as seen, for example, in its resemblance to something the philosopher Plutarch observes: “The most sensible and wisest people are little cared for in their own hometowns.”1

The negative reaction in Nazareth strangely hinders Jesus’ abilities there, although he manages to dunk on the Nazarenes’ “unbelief” when he nevertheless heals “a few sick people” before leaving town. Opposition to the reign of God takes a toll and has lasting consequences, but it never has the last word.

Lest readers mistakenly presume that the hometown rejection might inhibit Jesus’ power going forward, immediately he takes steps to expand his ministry’s reach. His 12 disciples, who were originally described as deputized preachers and exorcists (3:14–15), receive marching orders.

He instructs them to model simplicity and dependency in what they wear and carry. They adorn themselves with a confidence that God or strangers will provide what they need. They avoid appearances of seeking personal gain. By staying in a single house in any given place, they make it clear that they aren’t trying to game their way up toward greater creature comforts. If no one listens to them, they should sever associations, refusing to take even the town’s dust with them on their way out. That detail sounds harsh, but so too is any village’s refusal to welcome undersupplied travelers in the first place.

Mark indicates that the disciples succeed in performing the kind of ministry Jesus has been doing up to this point. The positive outcomes owe themselves to several things. First, Jesus is the source of the Twelve’s authority; disciples are primarily followers. Second, the word of God, when spread extensively, always yields a harvest (see 4:1–20). Third, the reign of God that Jesus initiates has a corporate or shared character; it’s less about elevating Jesus than about his commitment to create a new state of affairs.

Rejection from familiar people in Nazareth sits in contrast to hospitality from strangers around the region. The juxtaposition makes a powerful statement about Jesus’ tendency to frustrate conventional expectations. It makes us wary about presuming that we have Jesus figured out or that he must serve the canons we construct to define the contours of theology, virtue, and mercy. The larger narrative of Mark likewise reminds us that concealing and revealing happen in occasionally unexpected ways. The best way, it seems, to perceive the reign of God is to stay close to Jesus and follow where he goes.

The juxtaposition on display in this passage does not imply that Jesus always rejects the old in favor of the new. It certainly does not mean that Jesus turns from recalcitrant Jews and Judaism to hospitable gentiles and Christianity. Too many interpreters indulge anti-Jewish conceit by twisting passages like this one to make arrogance and unbelief symbolic of Judaism. It is vital to note that everyone in the passage appears to be Jewish—the population of Nazareth as well as the villagers off the narrative stage who hear Jesus and the Twelve preach.

Jesus’ “authority” is an important concept in Mark (see 1:22, 27; 2:10; 11:27–33; see also 3:22), so it is significant that he bestows authority to his followers to perform ministry in this passage (verse 7). Preachers might explore the significance of the church—following in the way of the disciples—as a community authorized by Jesus to speak and act on his behalf. It’s a frightfully important responsibility, and congregations sometimes shirk from using such language because temptations to misuse it are so powerful.

The word authority also carries a lot of baggage in our culture, and so Christians are wise to parse it carefully and refer to it graciously in our diverse religious landscape. Preachers can note that Jesus does not authorize his emissaries to go out as blowhards or know-it-alls. They are not sent to “claim the culture” for him or anyone else. They are guests, humbly willing to commit themselves to the well-being of the people they encounter, where those folks reside.


  1. De exilio 604D; quoted in Joel Marcus, Mark 1–8, Anchor Bible 27 (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 376.