Robert Wurtz II
He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works 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. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.” (Mark 6:1–6 ESV)
Our text reveals a familiar pattern of rejection and dismissiveness that ministers (prophets) sometimes face in their hometown, among relatives and the people with whom they live. The old adage says, “familiarity breeds contempt.” Many similar aphorisms among the Jews and Pagans spoke of rejection among those to whom one is well acquainted. But, beyond the typical rejection, a “built-in disrespect” or “built-in dishonor” accompanies the prophets. Jesus experienced it, and many, if not most who minister in His name, will likely experience it, too.
Mark uses the Greek word atimos to describe the peoples’ attitude towards Jesus. It is a–time (the negative of time), where time is a Greek word meaning honor or value. Therefore, Atimos is translated as low reputation, dishonored, dispised, disrepute, and void of honor. The people in His circles viewed Jesus superficially. They didn’t take Him seriously even though His words were oracles and His deeds were miracles. They were blinded by the bias that accompanies familiarity.
When Exceptional is a Bad thing
The people who rejected Jesus were “exceptionally” faithless. Notice the phrase, “not without honor, except in (…).” The passage could equally say that a prophet is honored everywhere except in his hometown and among his relatives, and in his own household. In other words, they could go anywhere else, and they would be honored. There is something sinister about fallen man that causes him to devalue people’s influence based on their personal knowledge.
The time would fail to share all the examples we could cite where a perfect stranger was honored and respected more than a loyal servant (so to speak). Think of the attention the new kid at school gets. Unfortunately, a person is often valued in the world who moves around from place to place, selling their talents and abilities to the highest bidder more than the loyal and faithful. What happens? The loyal and faithful often leave with bitter feelings. We see it in sports. A player is an “all-star” statistically, but they can’t get a good contract from their home team. Why? Because they came up in the farm system with a built-in disrespect towards them. It’s not until teams start reaching out with big contracts that the home team gets a clue, but often it’s too late. The player wanted to be loyal, but the price of loyalty was to be held back and dishonored.
The Danger of Loyalty and Ambition
In the kingdom of God, we are to be led by the Holy Spirit and not personal ambitions. But this does not address the fact that familiarity in a church or a group may diminish the work of God in a person’s life. God’s will is apt to become subject to feelings of loyalty or life-long allegiances and become our enemy in such a situation. You may look up and you’ve wasted ten years of your life being “loyal.” The world says, “that’s just the way it is.” In circles such as Jesus mentioned in Mark 6:4-6, one would think He would have found His most faithful supporters. But among his hometown and among his relatives, and in his own household, He couldn’t (wouldn’t) perform miracles because of unbelief. So why do people believe and honor strangers above familiar people? Why does it seem that familiarity and ineffectiveness seem to walk hand in hand?
Unfortunately, pastors and elders can experience this anytime they invite a guest speaker to the church. This attitude is regrettable because the people might continue for months or years rejecting the word of God and the blessing that God plans for them. Yet, that same pastor or elder can go to a different state or part of the world and receive enormous support. People drive for hours to hear them preach or teach. I have experienced this many times. But, then, you return to the home church, and often it’s like your saying, “blah, blah, blah.” Folks seem to be yawning in the crowd. It’s comical and sad at the same time.
Changing Fields of Labor
Perhaps this is why Paul and the other apostles and leaders moved around from time to time. We detect contempt in their words, “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” It’s like they are editorializing, “How can a carpenter be used of God? He wasn’t educated among the sages!” What happened? The passage goes on to say, “And they took offense at him.” Literally, “They stumbled at him,” “They were repelled by him” (Moffatt), “They turned against him” (Weymouth). In other words, it was unpardonable for Jesus not to be commonplace like themselves (A.T. Robertson).
Jesus wept when the multitudes rejected Him in Jerusalem. He lamented more than once that if the mighty works that He performed had been done in Sodom, Nineveh, or any place else (as it were) the people would have repented in sackcloth and ashes. However, it was not until after the resurrection that many of His family and others believed.
The Dark Side of Loyalty
Loyalty is a good thing, but it can also be a terrible thing. Loyalty can cause us to stay until familiarity destroys our effectiveness. Knowing that the Disciples would experience rejection, Jesus instructed them to shake the dust off their feet when they departed the city (Mark 6:11). This means that God expects people to either respond or forfeit the opportunity to hear (Acts 13:51). Paul preached to the Jews and often walked out and went to the Gentiles (Acts 28:28). What is the message here? Don’t waste your time sowing seed among people who refuse to respond. Go somewhere where people will receive the message.
If there is fruit in the field, by all means, stay on as long as God is moving! But loyalty to a spot on a map is not the same as being loyal to God and the calling He has placed on your life. The objective is not loyalty; it is fruitfulness.
And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.” (Mark 6:4–6 ESV)