Amazed at Imperfect People or St. Jude's Grandsons
There’s a double entendre in the title: “Amazed at Imperfect People”. Only 2 times does Scripture say Jesus was amazed. At His hometown’s unbelief and at the centurion’s belief. So where does the imperfect part come in? The text says that “many who heard Jesus were amazed.” Amazed, not the same word to describe Jesus’ amazement, but a word meaning “to strike out, expel by a blow, drive out, to strike with panic, shock, astonish,” (Thayer). I prefer ‘dumbstruck’ and it's in the imperfect which means it’s an ongoing action. And just what were they in the process of being dumbstruck over? Luke says ‘grace.” Matthew and Mark say, with slightly different emphasis, they were amazed at Jesus’ wisdom and power.
In Luke they crowd is described as being ‘amazed’ using the same word to describe Jesus’ reaction in Mark. There were amazed on the basis of the words of grace streaming out of His mouth. They were the first to be enthralled with Amazing Grace, but how many other folks have ever sang “Amazing Grace” and wanted to kill Jesus? That’s how events in Nazareth finally played out: “All the people in the synagogue…. got up, drove Him out of the town, and took Him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. But He walked right through the crowd...” His native town couldn’t deny His Words of grace or their wisdom or the power of His deeds. The word the insert translates as ‘miracles’ is dynámeis. NASB-77 says in the margin, “literally works of power’” Whether ‘miracles’ or ‘power’ they are dumbstruck that it came from His hands. Literally they say, “from whence was given to Him this wisdom and such power through the hands of Him.”
This is what their ongoing dumstruckness was over. They couldn’t deny the grace, wisdom, or the power, but the could deny the Messenger. The text says they were being scandalized by Him. It’s a passive imperfect. That means Jesus was the cause of it. They were doing exactly what Jesus cautioned the jailed John the Baptist not to do. Jesus told him, “Blessed is whoever not scandalized in Me” (Mt. 11:6), and the ‘Me’ there is emphatic. But ‘scandalized’ is too weak a translation. Most have ‘offended’ but that too is week, so is the Amplified Bible ‘deeply offended.’ It means to be trapped, caught, and killed by the springing of a trap (Lenski, Mark, 237). The noun for this is the name for the part of the trap that triggers the death blow, and that is what Jesus is to His hometown.
Let’s look at what triggers their damning unbelief. In a nutshell it’s the ordinariness of His person. In the same way the ordinariness of Baptismal Water leads people to rejecting it as a life giving water rich in grace; in the same way that people recoil at the ordinariness of the pastor who says, “I forgive your sins” and so reject his forgiveness; in the same way people reject the ordinariness of bread and wine and so deny that the Body and Blood of their God and Savior Jesus can be present here for forgiveness, life, and salvation, so they rejected Jesus’ message of grace, wisdom, and power because of the ordinariness of the Messenger.
Look what they say, “Isn’t this the carpenter?” The Greek form of this means “one who is known by this designation.” A 20th century commentator says it shouldn’t be translated ‘carpenter’ implying a lowly place in that society, but the Greek means anything from shipbuilder to sculptor. Nearly always it implies a person of considerable skill (Mann). Rather than going with this 20th century view I’ll take 2nd century testimony. Justin Martyr who lived and literally died for the faith in the century following Jesus said, “He was merely a carpenter making ploughs and yokes..” (ACC, II, 74-5). And don’t miss Nazareth’s dig at His Virgin Birth. “Isn’t this Mary’s Son” they asked with a wink and a nod. You know, “Mary’s ‘son’”, the one she came home pregnant with after being apart from her husband for better than 3 months. And to describe a man as the “son of his mother”, even if his father was deceased, was often a way to insult him (Mann). But the biggest proof of Jesus’ ordinariness is, “Isn't this…the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?"
Now were at last to the part of the title: “Or St. Jude’s Grandsons.” Jude is the brother of Jesus. His grandsons would be Jesus’ grandnephews. Quite a grand story comes to us through a man named Hegesippus who lived 60 years after Jesus. Emperor Domitian ordered the descendants of David to be slain. Hegesippus relates these facts in the following words: “‘Of the family of the Lord there were still living (in 81 to 96) the grandchildren of Jude, … Information was given that they belonged to the family of David, and they were brought to the Emperor Domitian....For Domitian feared the coming of Christ as Herod also had feared it. And he asked them if they were descendants of David, and they confessed that they were. Then he asked them how much property they had, or how much money they owned. And both of them answered that they… raised their taxes and supported themselves by their own labor. Then they showed their hands, exhibiting the hardness of their bodies and the callousness produced upon their hands by continuous toil as evidence of their own labor.’”
That’s all it took. “’Upon hearing this, Domitian did not pass judgment against them but despising them as of no account, he let them go, and by a decree put a stop to the persecution of the Church’” (earlychurchhistory.org/politics/ judes-grandsons-grand-nephews-of-jesus/). This is us. We too can easily be scandalized by the weakness of Jesus. Jesus warns in the Parable of the Sower. “When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly is scandalized” (Mat. 13:21). Of the Last Days Jesus warns, “At that time many will be scandalized” because they’re hated for Jesus’ name (Mat. 24:10). Not scandalized, not trapped to death by forgiveness but by the God who took on ordinary flesh and blood to take our place and die our damned death and than wrapped that forgiveness in Water, Words, Bread, and Wine that look, sound, taste, smell, and feel just plain ordinary.
But a really amazing – and also frightening thing – is that Jesus is amazed at these imperfect unbelievers. In some sense, it is unnatural for His hometown people to be unbelieving. The only way I can make sense of this is to take it in the vein that C.S. Lewis says only animals that man has domesticated are truly natural (Problem of Pain). That’s how God naturally made them. In the garden, they weren’t afraid of Adam and Eve and Adam and Eve didn’t naturally eat them. It was only after the Flood that God put the fear of man in animals, so they wouldn’t attack him, and gave them to him as food. Naturally man was made to trust and love God. As Augustine said, “You have made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee” (Confessions, 10, 20). And when we unnaturally rebel against this idea or try to fill what has been called “that God-shaped” hole with anything other than the God-Man Jesus we suffer and suffer until God in His judgment lets us be satisfied with the hole.
It goes the way of the 2nd Article of the Apostle’s Creed. First it deals with Who Jesus is, The Father’s “only Son, our Lord...who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.” Here’s the point that men have been scandalized to death over since this trip to Nazareth. Orthodox Christianity confesses this, always has, but liberal Christianity does not. Jesus was not conceived by the Holy Ghost in the womb of a virgin named Mary. O she could have given birth to a son she named Jesus but he had a human father. And this ordinary man Jesus could have suffered under Pontius Pilate been crucified, died and buried. But he sure couldn’t have descended into hell victorious over sin, death, and the devil let alone rise on the 3rd day. So, rejecting who Scripture says Jesus is you can’t benefit from what Scripture says Jesus did for you. Jesus didn’t keep the Law for you. As only a man, he could only keep it for himself. Jesus suffering and death as man and not as the God-Man wouldn’t be able to satisfy God’s wrath against all sinners. As only a man, Jesus could’ve only died for himself.
There is no grace, wisdom, or power apart from the way God gives these. Whether it’s by a thorn in the flesh, like Paul’s, that God never takes away from you, whether it’s by a Book that has been despised, mocked, and persecuted for thousands of years, whether it’s by the teaching and preaching of a sinful man just like you, or whether it’s by Water and Bread and Wine that the Word commands you to use, you get neither the Person nor the Work of Christ except by the Means God has ordained. But don’t think your lack of use, your unbelief, your outright rejection nullifies God’s power. Don’t think our text saying, “He could not do any miracles”, it’s dynámeis here too, was because their lack of faith took His power away.
Luke 4 tells you their unbelief led them to driving Jesus to a hill to throw Him off. Kind of hard to reach out and touch someone when the mob is crowding you off a cliff. Besides, their unbelief wouldn’t stretch out their withered arm when Jesus commanded, “Stretch out your arm.” Unbelief doesn’t, “Rise up and walk” when it rejects the Jesus who says it. Likewise, my forgiveness “in the stead and by the command of My Lord Jesus Christ” bounces off sins not confessed and sinners not believing not because it is not there or powerless but because it’s not wanted or used. Unbelief receives nothing but ordinary water, words, bread, and wine; well, in the case of Communion unbelief also receives judgment. That’s why Open Communion at altars having the Real Presence is such a damnable scandal. But what about the parallel form Mt. 13? “And He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith” (58). This explains it. It’s not that unbelief neutered all His power. In fact, their unbelief didn’t stop Jesus from reaching the few who recognized their God-shaped vacuum; their restlessness; their need. The 3rd century Origen said it best: “Thus the power in Him overcame even their unbelief” (ACC II, 76).
May the God-Man, conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary, overcome our unbelief even when we’re scandalized by descendants of Jesus, especially by the one looking at us in the mirror. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (20210711); Mark 6:1-6