8 Jul 2012
“Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary …? (Mark 6:3) In the name …
I think this is one of the most interesting passages of the Bible because it gives us a glimpse of Jesus before a lot more theology takes over. It’s clear in the pages of the Bible that Jesus’ conception of Himself changes over time, and the Bible also makes clear that our conception of Jesus has changed over time. Jesus changed, and Christianity is still changing. Our image of Jesus has never been static, and the Bible makes this clear, and probably never any clearer than when we read this passage from Mark. Faith is a living, breathing relationship with Christ. This means change is a part of its definition. The only kind of faith that doesn’t change would therefore be a dead faith. This passage from Mark can startle us and start us thinking again about who Jesus is, and that is always a good thing for a person of faith.
Mark’s is the first of the four Gospels and the least adorned. If you read Mark and then read John, you wonder how they’re talking about the same person. This is part of the reason why I wish some more of you would join our Bible study group so that we could look at these things together and explore. Sometimes faith comes across as boring because we settle. I enjoy the television program Seinfeld, but I think I’ve now seen every episode ten times in reruns. I love the program, but now I’m bored by them. If faith is unexciting, it’s maybe because we’re watching the same show over and over. We’re not letting faith challenge us. We’re not letting faith change with us.
Ever since Mark wrote these words about Jesus they have been a source of great difficulty, and I truly enjoy them because they still are today. It knocks the complacency out of us. This is the only biblical description, for example, of Jesus as a carpenter. When Matthew retells this story about ten years later, he changes the description so that Jesus is the “son of a carpenter.” The church’s image of Jesus had already changed. It would not allow for Him to labour. We know next to nothing about Jesus’ early life. We only get to meet Him after the encounter with John the Baptist. Anything that happened earlier is lost to us. Mark hints that Jesus worked for a living, but the later Gospels were offended by this and so they covered it up. I can understand why the earliest church down-played the ordinary because they were struggling with the revelation of Jesus’ divinity, with the extraordinary but today things have changed, and so should our image of Christ change. Now the questions of faith aren’t so much about who Jesus is, but rather, how is Jesus relevant to us and our world. I don’t know if I speak for you, but at least for me, the ordinariness of Jesus’ life is appealing. It brings Jesus closer. It makes Jesus more approachable. It tells me that God isn’t insulated up in some heavenly fortress, but that in Jesus God has been us. And there’s a lesson here for Jesus’ church that the sacred shouldn’t become the sanctimonious, that we are Jesus’ presence in the world for people.
Mark then goes on to list the brothers and sisters of Jesus, even if the later church found virginity a lot more appealing and conveniently forgot about these other siblings, the other children of Mary. The church was trying to tidy-up the story of Jesus. It wasn’t enough that He was the unique Messiah and Saviour and Son of God. He had to be unique in every aspect of His life so James, Joses, Judas and Simon, along with Jesus’ unnamed sisters, all must disappear into the fog of history. This is the wrong way of dealing with change. Scientists announced the discovery of the Higgs Boson on the Fourth of July. That’s the subatomic particle that gives everything mass and weight when it interacts with gravity. This is what allows for stuff to exist. It’s called the God Particle because without it there may have been nothing in the universe but waves of formless energy. One of the scientists waiting to hear the formal announcement of the discovery spoke of the excitement and anticipation, and then said that the only thing that could be even more exciting would be if it were not there. Then everything would have to be reevaluated and a new model would have to be discovered. Change should be based on coming to terms with what we know, not on hiding from stuff we don’t want to know.
Take the lesson of Jesus’ return to His hometown of Nazareth as told to us today by Mark. Jesus the carpenter would have been a familiar and a reassuring symbol of normality to those people gathered in the Nazareth synagogue. It was to this carpenter that they extended the invitation to speak that Sabbath day. But once Jesus begins to teach, once they are confronted with the unexpected godly wisdom and power of His words, their impression begins to change – and not for the better. Up to this point in Mark’s Gospel, one after another the forces of wind and water, demonic possession, illness and even death have yielded to Jesus’ authority, but Jesus cannot overcome the repulsion of familiarity. Our free will is the only thing that can say no to God. The people of Nazareth, even Jesus’ own family, could have welcomed back the local carpenter who made good, but they could not allow for the local carpenter to come back as the Messiah. It was more than they were willing to handle and so they chose to ignore their instinctive sense of awe. As we read Mark we first hear of their amazement, but then without warning the amazement turns into irritation. Jesus impressed them until they got hold of their senses and reminded themselves that this was only the carpenter, and they forced themselves to ignore what was happening.
The defiant refusal to believe of Jesus’ old friends and neighbours, and even His family, so negatively affected Him that Mark says Jesus could not perform any miracles there in Nazareth. Jesus isn’t a magician tricking His audience. Jesus transforms His followers. Faith opens up the door for Jesus to act. Is there a lesson here for our age? Do we need to ask ourselves if we have grown too familiar with Jesus as present in the community of the church, in the Mass, in prayer? Jesus can do great things, but He cannot force us to believe. That sense of awe and excitement has to be allowed by us. We have to be able to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, like right here and now. That the carpenter and the church that grows-up around Him may change and challenge us always, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo