Rejection: hometown

Jesus-who-is-thisJesus left Capernaum and traveled southward into the hill country until he came to the village where he had spent his youth and the early years of his maturity. While Mark does not name Nazareth, he has earlier indicated that this was the village from which Jesus came, and it is undoubtedly in view under the phrase “his own country.” Jesus returned to Nazareth as would a rabbi, accompanied by his disciples. The reference to the disciples is important, for during this period Jesus had been concerned with their training in preparation for the mission which Mark reports in 6:7–13.

On the sabbath day Jesus attended the synagogue and was given the opportunity to expound the reading from the Torah and the Haftarah, the Law and the prophetic portion. The entire congregation was astonished at his teaching, which prompted questions concerning the source of his doctrine and wisdom and of the power which had been exhibited elsewhere in miracles of healing and exorcism. It is possible that the people entertained the dark suspicions voiced earlier by the Jerusalem scribes (3:22). Jesus had not been schooled in rabbinic fashion but had been trained as a manual laborer. His immediate family were well known to the villagers, who judged that there was nothing extraordinary about them that would have led them to expect something unusual from Jesus. What was the source of his wisdom, and who had empowered him to speak and act with such authority? To these questions two answers lie close at hand: the source was God, or it was demonic. Their first impressions of astonishment shaded off to resentment when they recalled Jesus’ earlier vocation and standing in Nazareth. Not knowing the source of his wisdom, they find his office as a teacher offensive. In spite of what they heard and saw they failed to penetrate the veil of ordinariness which characterized this one who had grown up in the village.

What do the hometown people know about Jesus that would lead them to reject him? While there is much that I disagree with in Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, by John Dominic Crossan, his social status of tekton is enlightening:

Ramsay MacMullen has noted that one’s social pedigree would easily be known in the Greco-Roman world and that a description such as “carpenter” indicated lower class status [Roman Social Relations: 50 B.C. to A.D. 384]. At the back of his book he gives a “Lexicon of Snobbery” filled with terms used by literate and therefore upper-class Greco-Roman authors to indicate their prejudice against illiterate and therefore lower-class individuals. Among those terms is tekton, or “carpenter,” the same term used for Jesus in Mark 6:3 and for Joseph in Matthew 13:55. One should not, of course, ever presume that upper-class sneers dictated how the lower classes actually felt about themselves. But, in general, the great divide in the Greco-Roman world was between those who had to work with their hands and those who did not. [p. 24]

Crossan, using a study by Gerhard Lenski [Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification], defines the upper and lower classes in an order of importance.

Upper Class
Ruler and Governors
Priests
military generals to expert bureaucrats
Merchants
Lower Class
Peasants
Artisans
Degraded
Expendable

Crossan [25] writes: “If Jesus was a carpenter, therefore, he belonged to the Artisan class, that group pushed into the dangerous space between Peasants and Degradeds or Expendables…” Crossan also quotes Celsus, a pagan philosopher who wrote “True Doctrine” sometime between 177 and 180 C.E as an attack on Christianity. The great offense of this faith was not the claim that a human could be born of a virgin or that a human could be divine; but the fact that it could happen to a member of the lower classes! “Class snobbery is, in fact, very close to the root of Celsus’s objection to Christianity,” to quote Crossan [p. 27].

Witherington (The Gospel of Mark) says something similar:

Notice that they neither dispute that he has wisdom or that he performs mighty works; they are just dumbfounded that it comes from a hometown boy like Jesus. More than just a matter of familiarity breeding contempt, this comes from the ancient mentality that geographical and heredity origins determine who a person is and what his capacities will always be. They see Jesus as someone who is not merely exceeding expectations but rather is overreaching. [p. 192]

Perhaps such “snobbery” is at the heart of the rejection of Jesus in Nazareth. Juel (Mark) writes:

The refusal — or inability — of Jesus’ neighbors to accept his status confirms what the story has suggested thus far: the world’s standards of judgment appear to run headlong into God’s ways. Jesus does not measure up. The circumstances of his origin allow no way of accounting for the stories about him. His common beginnings do not fit the assessment that he is a prophet. The result is scandal and fear. The reaction of the people from his hometown also suggests that real insiders are not necessarily those who by birth or circumstance are closest to Jesus. In fact, those who ought to know best turn out to be the most incapable of insight. [pp. 92-93]

It was inconceivable to them that God could be at work in the commonplace.

Notes

Mark 6:1 his native place: the Greek word patris here refers to Nazareth (cf Mark 1:9; Luke 4:16,23–24) though it can also mean native land.

Mark 6:2 astonished. Mark frequently uses this term to express the crowd’s reaction to Jesus (exeplēssonto). In 1:22 and 11:18, the amazement is over Jesus’ teaching in general. In 7:37, it is in reaction to his healing work. In 10:26, it is the reaction to his teaching about the difficulty of the wealthy entering the Kingdom. The term need not indicate belief, but simply astonishment.

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