Commentary by Fr Donagh O’Shea OP, www.goodnews.ie
Jesus came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On 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! Is 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 offence at him.
Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching.
Mark never attempts to smooth the edges of the story. “When Jesus noticed it he was very angry,” he wrote (10:13), describing Jesus’ reaction when the disciples tried to stop children from coming near him. Matthew and Luke smooth it over, simply writing “Jesus then said….” But it works both ways: Mark may show an angrier Jesus in that passage, but he also shows him to be more affectionate than the other Gospel writers do. “He took the children in his arms and laying his hands on them, blessed them” (10:16). Matthew only says “Jesus laid his hands on them and went his way” (19:15), and in Luke’s version there is no contact at all: “He called the children to him and said…” (18:16). Mark’s Jesus is more emotional, he shows his feelings more.
Another example of Mark’s bluntness: he wrote that James and John asked to be seated at Jesus’ right hand in the Kingdom (10:37), but Matthew said it was their mother who asked this question! (20:23). It is obvious, when you look carefully, that Mark is more accurate. Matthew calls Jesus “the carpenter’s son” (13:55), as if to distance him from manual work. But in today’s reading Mark reports people as saying simply, “This is the carpenter surely!”
“We must face the fact,” wrote George Bernard Shaw, “that all society is based upon intolerance.” He may have been overstating the case, but the test is whether the hat fits. Brinsley MacNamara’s novel The Valley of the Squinting Windows exposed the bitter cruelty of village morality. The smaller the society, the more controlling this narrow spirit. “Beneath the charm of the rural town or village, there often lurks a lethal intolerance.” People who have known you all your life see you as the child you were, even when you are a middle-aged man or woman. They see where you came from and they remember all your youthful mistakes. If they are villagers they also want to make sure you are not getting above yourself; “who does he think he is?” Nazareth was such a place.
The terrible fact is that it works! It tied Jesus’ hands: “he could work no miracles there,” wrote Mark. Matthew says, “He did not work many miracles there” (13:58), making it look more like a decision on Jesus’ part. Mark’s version is more gutsy and tragic, and it makes you think more. It is a frightful thought that we have the ability to prevent miracles, to tie the Lord’s hands…. How many miracles have I prevented in my life? Or this week? Why are my wife and children so quiet? Are they sinking into despair? Or have I a way of making my husband feel so bad that everything he might do or say is condemned in advance? God prevent that I should be a miracle-stopper!