Two things I can’t get past in this chapter: v.5 says “and he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.”
It seems utter predictable that Jesus would be “dissed” in his hometown. They knew him “when.” I remember when I was an intern at Newsday, the Long Island (and Queens!) newspaper, and I was sitting with one of the veteran writers and he was talking about a guy who had a part-time job covering high school sports. He said, “He has to get out of here. They are never going to realize how good he is until he leaves.” I hate to admit it, but in that moment, I thought of this anecdote: A prophet without honor in his hometown, etc. I realize the moral scale is all wrong, but the dynamic is similar. In some ways, the people who watched you grow up know you better than anyone. But in other ways, their knowledge of your early life blinds them to what you have become. They perceive limits on your future that are derived from their understanding of your past.
Does it make you wonder how your own situation compromises your ability to hear the Good News? Does it make you wonder whether God holds it against you?
Then to verses 7-13. Jesus sends the twelve out in pairs with authority over unclean spirits. The continuing focus on unclean spirits deserves deeper inspection on another day. Mark seems to see the world as a place of spiritual combat which might seem Manichean to some readers—or might seem fair enough. But even to those who find it an accurate description, the nature of un-cleanliness might seem peculiar—so much a product of spirits and so little matter of choice.
This incident is one of several in the NT about which I wish I knew more. As death closes in on Jesus, one doesn’t get a sense of the 12 as a confident bunch who have participated in drawing the Kingdom near. Granted, they were about to lose the person who had made every wonderful thing in their lives seem possible, but … If you had gone on a mission, cast out demons, and participated in Christ’s wonder-working power, would you really collapse as completely as these men collapsed?
On a more academic note, these verses seem to steal the thunder of Pentecost. If you’ve already felt this sort of power, does the descent of the Holy Spirit come as such a surprise? Maybe so. Maybe it was all so fleeting that it was impossible to believe, like Peter walking on water for a step or two and then plunging in.
This is a rich chapter, and I am going to pass on the death of John and the loaves and the fishes, partly because I get another shot in a little while at the loaves and fishes.