Deeds of Power

Jesus left that place and 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 offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, 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. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.  Mark 6:1-13.

Mark’s Gospel for the Sunday Lectionary offers us several insights into Jesus.  You may remember a couple of weeks back, as the disciples were caught in a terrible storm, they wondered,  “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:41.  Last week, in Chapter 5, we heard a partial answer to that question, in the stories of Jairus’ daughter and the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak.  I think today’s reading may also help us unlock the answer to that question.

Jesus returns to Nazareth, to his hometown.  Teaching at the synagogue, he astonishes the crowd there.  They marvel at his wisdom, his teaching, and at his “deeds of power.”  Like many of us, however, a profound distrust soon overcomes their sense of awe.  They wonder, “How can this be so?  We know Jesus, and we know his family.  He’s just a simple carpenter.”

Often, I think, we lose the irony of Mark’s next phrase.  “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.”  Most of us would probably find such a miraculous hearing sufficient, if not extraordinary.

Mark does seem to link, however, the occurrence of the miraculous with the community’s ability to trust God, with the community’s faith.  That’s an interesting reversal of the way we often think of miracles.  We sometimes think, “Lord, if you will only (insert something miraculous here), then I’ll be able to believe.”  Mark, however, suggests that miracles are a consequence of faith, rather than a cause of it.  (The theological footing here may not be completely sturdy, in that it suggests that God’s power hinges on us and our belief.  I have serious questions about that view, but Mark seems to suggest it strongly. I’m inclined to suggest an alternate hypothesis:  Our trust in God opens our eyes to the everyday miracles that surround us.)

In the next passage, Jesus continues his ministry, and actively begins the process of the disciples’ formation.  He sends the disciples out in pairs, giving them authority over “unclean spirits.”  He sends them out with only a staff, and no provisions for the journey.  Jesus sent them out to proclaim his message of repentance, and they cured many and cast out demons.  I think this notion of “travelling light” will also help us answer the question “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Like their Rabbi, the disciples would not travel with either pomp or plenty.  They travelled, as Jesus did, sharing in the people’s need and vulnerability.  The twelve would learn to abandon the illusion of self-sufficiency.  The disciples would have to learn to trust God’s people, to trust each other, and most importantly, to trust God.  They would learn to be the instruments of grace and faith, and learn to be the music those instruments played.  Through the Incarnation of this Jesus, they would learn what the Kingdom looked like, and learn that God wanted to bridge His separation from mankind.

Throughout their time with Christ, they would begin to understand the answer:  “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  I hope we begin to understand, too.  Lord, we believe; help our unbelief.

Shabbat Shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

13 responses to “Deeds of Power

  1. Noel Williams (prhayz)

    Excellent post Bro. James. I believe miracles happen when we begin to trust God.

  2. “Dear Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” Amen

  3. Warning: long reply below. I had done a paper on the presence of faith required for healing and copy specific references found in the Bible below. I think that God’s power exists regardless of our belief, but God will not use this power unless and until invited. It seems to me that I need to explore faith a little more and go write all this stuff on my own blog, but, for now, here are my thoughts:

    Jesus said: “The Son cannot do anything by himself – he can only do what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19). When Jesus took part in healing another, he was always in the presence of desire and faith. The leper in Matthew 8:1 said: “Sir, if you will to do so, you can cure me.” The centurion whose son was paralyzed said: “I am not worthy to have you under my roof. Just give an order and my boy will get better” (Matthew 8:8). At Capernaum, Jesus witnessed the faith that healed the paralyzed man (Matthew 9:2). The woman who had suffered hemorrhages for 12 years sought to touch his cloak having faith that she would get well and Jesus said: “Your faith has restored you to health” (Matthew 9:21-22). When the crowds of Gennesaret saw him arrive, so great was their faith that they brought their sick to anyplace Jesus appeared and “all who touched him got well” (Mark 6:53-56) (The New American Bible, 1970).

    When he approached the sick, Jesus asked them: “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6). He asked the two blind men who sought him: “Are you confident I can do this?” They responded: “Yes” and Jesus said: “Because of your faith it shall be done to you” (Matthew 9:27-28). In Jericho, Jesus asked the blind man who had been calling out to him for pity: “What do you want me to do for you?” The man answered: “I want to see.” Jesus replied: “Your faith has healed you” (Mark 10:47-52) (The New American Bible, 1970).

    At the synagogue in Nazareth, though, Jesus “could work no miracle . . . so much did their lack of faith distress him” (Mark 6:5-6). Even Jesus could not help those who did not believe they could be healed (The New American Bible, 1970).

    • Barbara,

      I cannot thank you enough for your thoughts, and yes, I’m convinced this is a subject you should blog on. I remain convinced that faith opens our eyes to God’s work in the world.

      Again, with great thanks,

      Br. James

  4. “The twelve would learn to abandon the illusion of self-sufficiency.” love it!

  5. Good post brother James. If the disciples at this time knew him as a man hence the questions about his power. After Pentecost they knew him as God. I think this would answer the questions that you have presented. God or our faith? Since we know him as God, the power and ability is his always. Hence we carry nothing. our faith totally in him as one who can do the miracles, do all the miracles.
    Thanks for an excellent post
    Brother Paul

    • My friend,

      You are, as always most welcome. Learning to “take nothing for the journey” challenges me deeply. It’s one of the places I need to grow.

      God’s deep peace on you and your house,

      Br. James

  6. Bro James. I really appreciated you statemnt concering Mark’s observation … “Our trust in God opens our eyes to the everyday miracles that surround us.” .
    I totally agree with you. God’s powerful workings are not limited by the amount of faith that we oossess. It is our recogniztion of the=ose miracles that are limited by the strength of our faith.
    As always.. thank you for a very interesting study.

    • Rob,

      Thanks so much for your thoughts and your encouragement. I think we have to regularly struggle to avoid visions which would limit God. And, you’re most welcome.

      God watch over thee and me,

      Br. James

  7. Where does this image come from?

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