Mistaken Identity: Mark 6:1-6

A visit to Nazareth leads to a case of mistaken identity.

1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,[a] Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Mark 6:1-6a

This visit to Nazareth gives us a very personal glimpse into Jesus’ family relationships. In Nazareth, everyone knows Jesus. They know his brothers, James, Joseph, Judas and Simon. They know his mother and his sisters. We can assume that Joseph had died at some time and Jesus had spent some of his time heading the family business. I’m noticing that we think we know Jesus, but we don’t always recognise that first thirty years, spent living in a large family in a small, rural village in northern Israel.

We have seen his family, or at least some of them,  before. Do you recall that earlier in Mark’s gospel we saw his mother and some of the brothers travelling to Capernaum to bring Jesus home (Mark 3:20-21). Stories about him had been circulating – some people thought he had lost his mind. Some people in Nazareth had heard all about his teaching and healing work, but it seems that perhaps they were unconvinced by the stories. Jesus, after all, did not grow up as a rabbi – he was the village carpenter!

Recently, I met up with some good friends for a barbecue. Their kids ( who I hadn’t seen for ages) were there. The oldest is nearly 30, and the youngest is 21. They all used to be in the Church youth club of which I was one of the leaders, and I realized that there’s a part of me that still thinks of them as teenagers. Of course, they’re not! They are all mature, responsible adults – two of them are married and one of them has two children. Since I last saw them, they have grown and become different people. I would completely misunderstand who they are now if I still thought of them as teenagers.

Something similar is going on here. Maybe it’s not surprising that many of the villagers had difficulty understanding who Jesus really was. To some, he was their boyhood friend. To others he was Joseph’s boy – the one who went missing twenty years ago during a Passover trip to Jerusalem. (Luke 2:21-42). He was the man who was always there to help you to mend a cart or sort the leak in their roof. They thought they knew who Jesus is. He was a nice guy – a man of integrity.  But on that Sabbath day when he visited the synagogue, everybody saw Jesus for who they thought he was rather than who he actually is. This is a case of mistaken identity.

This Jesus is the same person who left Nazareth some time earlier, yet he returns a different man. By God’s grace and power the humble carpenter has been transformed. Like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, Jesus has become what God designed him to be. He is a travelling rabbi, with his small group of disciples. He is speaking at the synagogue, teaching about a Kingdom of God in a way which is fundamentally different from that which most other rabbi’s described. He is claiming a level of spiritual authority which is completely out of step with their expectation of Jesus of Nazareth. Some of them, at least, took offense at him.

The previous verses have told of the faith of Jairus, the synagogue leader in Capernaum, and the lady suffering from chronic bleeding. Their faith resulted in dramatic and transformational healings. Here, we see a scarcity of faith, and we read that there was a problem. Whilst we should not overlook the point that Jesus did lay his hands on a few people and heal them, he was unable to achieve as much as he should have been because the people had no faith.

It seems to me that every one of us comes to Christ with misconceptions about who Jesus actually is. Even as Christians, we are at risk of mistaking his identity. We only begin to understand when we trust – when we have faith. We need to want to see Jesus as Jesus! Where there is faith, there is healing and transformation. Where there is no faith, there are opportunities missed.

‘There is laid upon us a tremendous responsibility that we can wither help or hinder the work of Jesus Christ. We can open the door wide to him – or we can slam it in his face.’

William Barclay, New Daily Study Bible, The Gospel of Mark, Kindle Edition, Loc 3000

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *