Formations 03.14.2021: Pressing On

Mark 6:1-13

I’ve always imagined Jesus as fairly unflappable. Admittedly, that might have more to do with sermons and children’s Sunday school stories than the Bible, but I don’t think it’s entirely out of line with how the Gospels portray him. He always seems to know the right thing to say. He isn’t easily (or at all) offended by irreligious people and their ways of living. He gives the impression of someone who is always at least three steps ahead of everybody else in the room.

And yet, there are hints that even Jesus can reach his limit, especially in the Gospel of Mark. In Mark 6, Jesus preaches at his hometown synagogue, and response is, well, less than enthusiastic. In fact, Mark tells us that Jesus “was amazed at their unbelief” (v. 6).

And there it is. Jesus is “amazed.” He does a double take. His jaw drops. Jesus, who always seems so unflappable…gets flapped. The people’s cool reception even impedes his ability to help them: “He could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them” (v. 5). Admittedly, Jesus on an off day is far better than any of us at our best, but still.

Fortunately, this failure to believe is only a setback, not a knockout. Perhaps the degree of unbelief among the people of Nazareth is amazing to Jesus, but the fact of it comes as no surprise. He is quite familiar with the old saying about prophets not receiving honor in their hometown.

More important, the people’s lack of faith does not stop Jesus’ mission. In the second half of verse 6, Jesus moves on. If Nazareth won’t listen, there are plenty of other villages in Galilee. And not only does Jesus press on, he also sends the Twelve out on a mission of their own. Two by two, they are to go about proclaiming repentance, casting out demons, and curing the sick.

When Jesus is taken aback by the people’s unbelief, he doesn’t give up and go home. On the contrary, he is spurred to expand his mission by entrusting it to others. In other words, the fact that some people don’t believe in Jesus can’t keep him from believing in his disciples. And the Twelve live into that trust: their mission bears fruit.

Even in the face of amazing disbelief—perhaps even our own—the kingdom of God presses on.

Discussion

  • How do people react when they don’t believe? What do they do when they do believe?
  • Why do you think the people in Jesus’ hometown rejected him?
  • What does it mean that Jesus “could do no deed of power there” (v. 5)? How does lack of faith prevent a fuller expression of the kingdom of God?
  • When have you been discouraged by disbelieving naysayers?
  • How can we find the motivation to press on when it seems we are alone?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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