Today’s reading is Mark 6:1-6:
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, 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.
For the prophets in the Bible, suffering was often part and parcel of their ministry. Almost all experienced relationship betrayal, threats to their lives, unfounded accusations, and wrongful imprisonment.
For example, God charged the prophet Hosea to live a life that mirrored God’s relationship with Israel. As a part of this, Hosea had to take as wife an adulterous prostitute who betrayed him through numerous affairs and ultimately ran away with her lover. Despite this, God instructed Hosea to love and take her back as his wife each time, as a representation of God’s perpetual, forgiving love for those who desert him. Then there’s Jeremiah, who is sometimes known as the suffering prophet. At different points in his life, everyone he knew wanted to kill him. For prophesying the unhappy and imminent news that Judah would be conquered by the Babylonians, Jeremiah experienced betrayal from his friends and brothers, was imprisoned in a dungeon, and was beaten and left for dead in a muddy cistern. And finally, when Queen Jezebel of Israel was executing all of God’s prophets, Elijah fled into the wilderness and spent the night in a cave, where his fear reduced him to praying that God would take his life.
Jesus joins this tradition of saintly suffering. Jesus experienced all the sufferings of the prophets before him. His loved ones betrayed him, his life was in constant danger, and he was beaten and left for dead on the Cross.
In today’s reading, Jesus goes back to his birthplace. The people he had grown up with – family friends, neighbors, those who knew his father – assumed that Jesus had inherited his father’s carpentry trade and were shocked when he spoke with the authority of a prophet. Many biblical scholars think that rather than receiving formal rabbinical training, Jesus was divinely taught by God. Ever since he was a young boy, Jesus had understanding that amazed even the teachers.
What’s interesting about this passage is that although Jesus’s countrymen did not accept his spiritual message, they still came to him for his physical healing. They acknowledged his power for what it could do for them, but not for what it conveyed about who he was. Regardless of their motives and thoughts, Jesus still healed them.
I often find myself doing the same thing that Jesus’s countrymen did. I take Jesus for what he does for me but not for who he is. Instead, I create my own religion around the parts of the Christian faith that I like to hear. I accept some standards from the Bible and discard others based on my own intuition. I construct the scale by which I measure and decide what is moral and immoral and who is good and bad. In creating my own religion and becoming my own god, I push Jesus into the periphery as a mere afterthought. Perhaps I am not alone in this.
Fortunately, the beauty of Jesus’s promise of salvation is that it does not require anything of us – it does not require for our faith in him to be strong. Even when we lack faith, he still offers us his hands and feet, blemished by the nails of the Cross, to carry us through the uncertainties and sufferings of this life.
Ruirui Kuang ’12, a former Design Editor of the Ichthus, is currently working in the government sector in DC.