Jesus First Day

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This page is part of the Jesus Database project.

Mark seems to have been the source for a story about Jesus making a visit to his hometown near the beginning of his public activity and being somewhat underwhelmed by the reception from his own townsfolk. It is interesting to note the way this tradition is handled in each of the Synoptic Gospels:

Mark 6:1-6

/1/ He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.

/2/ 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!

/3/ 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.

/4/ Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." /5/ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. /6/ And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching.

Matthew 13:54-58

/54/ He came to his hometown

and began to teach the people in their synagogue,

so that they were astounded and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power?

/55/ Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? /56/ And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?" /57/ And they took offense at him.

But Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house." /58/ And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.

Luke 4:16-30

/16/ When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up,

he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, /17/ and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: /18/ "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, /19/ to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." /20/ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. /21/ Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

/22/ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.

They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?"

23/ He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'" /24/ And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. /25/ But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; /26/ yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. /27/ There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."

/28/ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. /29/ They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. /30/ But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Matthew is content simply to tidy up a few theological embarrassments that he found in Mark's account:

  • Jesus is no longer a carpenter, but rather the carpenter's son.
  • Jesus is not described as "the son of Mary," removing any social stigma that formulation might suggest.
  • Jesus' inability to perform deeds of power in his hometown is qualified, and the cause is laid on the unbelief of the Nazareth population.

Luke develops the story as a formal inauguration of Jesus' mission, creating a story that has a role in his Gospel that parallels the role of the Pentecost legend in Acts:

  • Luke's Jesus is a rather more conventional character, whose "custom" was to attend Sabbath services in the local synagogue.
  • This Jesus is literate, and functions as a respected synagogue member in taking his turn at reading the Scriptures.
  • Here Jesus explicitly claims that the prophetic texts are being fulfilled in himself, right there that very day.
  • Rather than being offended at his interpretation of the Scriptures, "all spoke well of him."
  • Jesus is identified as "Joseph's son" and the low status occupation of carpenter (Gk: "teknon") is expunged from the account.
  • There is no mention of his mother, brothers or sisters.
  • Jesus actually provokes his own rejection by an otherwise positive audience when he preempts any request for miracles and identifies his listeners with the recalcitrant Israelites from the times of Elijah and Elisha.
  • Predictably, Luke then described a mob rampage that almost resulted in Jesus being thrown of a (non-existent) cliff in Nazareth except that by force of his own charisma he calmly walked through their midst and escaped the danger.

Central to all these accounts is the well-attested saying:

No prophet is welcome on his home turf;
doctors don't cure those who know them." [Complete Gospels]

This saying is known from Thomas, Mark, Luke and John and seems independent of this specific episode. It doubtless preserves a memory of Jesus' personal experience of rejection by his own nation, whether not these words were actually spoken by him.