Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples. When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith. (Mark 6:1-6)
This gospel contains an odd and very interesting expression. “Jesus was not able….” How can that be? Jesus is the Son of God. That is the second person of the Trinity of God. How can God incarnate not be able to do anything?
To understand this let’s step back and look at the people Jesus was with.
Jesus had returned to Nazareth, the town he grew up in upon his family’s return from Egypt. He had grown up with these people and known them as children. They probably played games together. Yes, first century Palestinians played games. They played a game similar to checkers that they called hounds and jackals. They also played with figurines, sort of an ancient form of Barbie and GI Joe. In Nazareth, Jesus learned his trade and worked his trade. He was a carpenter, or more accurately, a builder. He probably worked with wood and stone, possibly concrete. The Romans had perfected the use of concrete and were using it for everything. Everyone in Nazareth knew him. He had probably worked in many of their homes.
When Jesus went into a town or village it must have been like an awesome explosion of the power of God. Nothing like Jesus had ever happened to anyone anywhere. Even Moses and Elijah paled in comparison.
But when Jesus came to Nazareth, it was more like a whimper. “Hey, Jesus. How’s it going? Haven’t seen you in a while. Heard some strange things but didn’t pay them much mind. Good to have you home.”
In short they had him fully categorized. Jesus was Mary’s son, a good devout Jew who often spoke in the local synagogue, and a reliable laborer. But nothing more. They had Jesus in a box. And Jesus let them put him in that box. Jesus never forced himself on anyone. Not even his close friends he grew up with.
They knew him so well as their neighbor, as their equal, they could not accept him as their Lord. As a result, Jesus was unable to bring his full force of power to bear fruit in their lives.
As I reflect on this gospel, I am struck how much we as 21st century Americans are like those villagers of Nazareth. We’ve grown up with Jesus. We learned all about him in Sunday School or PSR. He can do anything. We ask him for things. Sometimes he gives them to us. We know exactly who Jesus is. Is a cross between Superman and Santa Clause. We put him in that box, and he lets us put him in that box. And as a result, he is not able to bring the full force of God’s power to bear fruit in our lives.
Jesus has nothing to do with either Santa Clause or Superman. Jesus is the Lord. And if he is our Lord, amazing things happen.
When Jesus went into a village, people would give up everything to follow him. To be close to him. To know what he wanted from them and do everything they could for him. Peter said “We have left everything to follow you.” They made him their Lord. As a result, power flowed.
I think of it this way. God’s love is like an ocean. And between you and the ocean there is a valve that controls how much of God’s love and grace and power comes into your life. God has given you complete control over the valve. You can just crack it open a little bit and let it trickle into your life. Or, you can open it up and let God’s love pour into your life. You can even take a hammer and break it off and get fire hosed with the love and power of God, until you say with Saint Paul, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”
Are you content to leave Jesus in his box? Where you have control? He won’t attempt to break out, but he also won’t be able to unleash the power of God in your life. But if you are not content with what your relationship with Jesus looks like today. If there is a longing inside for more of Jesus in your life. You know there must be more. Then, surrender all. Tear open the box and let Jesus be Lord. Break off the control valve and loose control to the Love of God. And get ready for the ride of your life.