Fourth Sunday After Pentecost

by Crossings

Living Beyond Offense
Mark 6:1-13
Proper 9 (Fourth Sunday after Pentecost)
Analysis by Bruce T. Martin

1He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands? 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

DIAGNOSIS: Offending the One Offended

Step 1 – Initial Diagnosis: Offending Wisdom
Jesus, “in his hometown,” has a certain reputation for being offended. On the one hand, folks are “astounded” by his teaching and healing – “this wisdom . . . deeds of power.” On the other hand, these same folks “took offense (Greek: skandalon) at him.” Why are these offenders scandalized? Because he is well known to them as a carpenter, a son, a brother. This is a familiar plight among modern day apostles – not only pastors and missionaries, but all who are sent to bear the Word of God.

Step 2 – Advanced Diagnosis: Unbelief
Their offensive posture towards Jesus runs deeper than mere familiarity, however. At root is their failure to recognize Jesus as more than a carpenter or a healer or even a prophet. They are too comfortable just letting Jesus be (despite even his resurrection from the dead). So, Jesus “was amazed at their unbelief” (v. 6). The same can be said of many folks today and often of us ourselves. Amazing how many good folks can get Jesus so wrong!

Step 3 – Final Diagnosis: No Deed of Power
Because of their unbelief, Jesus “could do no deed of power there.” No deed, that is, that is recognizable to faith. So Jesus remains to them merely a familiar sight. Sad, because Jesus had so much to offer them besides a healing touch and words of wisdom. Therefore they remained in their unbelief – and without the power to get beyond their dilemma! That leaves them only with the condemnation of their offense.

PROGNOSIS: The Offended One taking the Offense

Step 4 – Initial Prognosis: The Deed of Power
Unexpectedly, when Jesus left his hometown, he went to a place where he could do a powerful deed (for the very ones who are offended by him): the cross. With this deed, Jesus demonstrates the power and glory and righteousness of God! Contrary to everything that is familiar to us about “God,” God himself – in Jesus – publicly displays his premier “authority” (Greek: exousia) over sin, death and unbelief.

Step 5 – Advanced Prognosis: Apostleship
This very authority Jesus in turn “gives” to the twelve, “sending” (Greek: apostellein) them out as ambassadors into a world of sin, death and unbelief. Insofar as “the twelve” represent those who believe in Jesus, even today, apostleship follows. The marks of Jesus’ ambassadorship are the marks of Jesus’ authority as well: no bread, bag or money. That is, no self-reliance. The staff was necessary for speedy travel, but, to borrow an image from John, the staff could also represent Jesus’ authority as good shepherd. (Though allegory should generally be avoided.) The point is, those who are called to be apostles are sent out into the world with the same instrument of power and authority as Jesus: the Word of God only.

Step 6 – Final Prognosis: Powerless Power
Versus 12-13 tell us what apostles are sent out to do: to proclaim repentance, to cast out demons, and to anoint and cure the sick. True, the world sees these deeds as unworthy of “God”; for good jurists and psychologists and physicians do these deeds fairly well – or so they believe. But the apostolic gift and task is to do these deeds truly well, by faith-in-Jesus; that is, at the Step 2-5 levels. Repentance, demonic possession, and even bodily sickness presuppose sin and are addressed by truth telling. For such a task, only the Word of God will help. But what a joyous, liberating Word!


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