Misunderstanding Jesus

“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.” (Mark 6:2–3 ESV)

Something smacks me right in the face as I take up this incident in Mark 6 in which Jesus teaches at what is presumably his home synagogue [probably Nazareth, the very small village in which he was raised]. What is the reaction of the people in Jesus’ own hometown when he proclaims the good news to them?  They are filled with questions, and these are the wrong questions:

  • 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, son of Mary?
  • Are not his sisters here with us?

These are not the questions of people who have followed Jesus by faith, who have heard his message and believed it, who have decided, in fact, that he is the Messiah, the one for whom Israel had been waiting for all of these long years. It is just the opposite, Mark tells us that “they took offense at him.”  Expositor’s Bible Commentary comments: “’The idea conveyed by the Greek verb is that of being offended and repelled to the point of abandoning (whether temporarily or permanently the word does not specify) belief in the Word (cf. Lk 8:13) or one’s relation with Jesus (14:27, 29)’ (Bratcher and Nida, pp. 139-40).” They did not receive his message with joy and faith, they were scandalized by him and his message. This despite the fact that they had at least heard of (if not experienced) his miracles, they had listened to him teach, they had all of the information that they should have needed, but…

“Isn’t this that kid, Jesus?”  “Haven’t we known him all his life?”  “Don’t we know his family?”  “Who does he think he is?” Tyndale Commentary says here: “The people of Nazareth ‘knew all the answers’ about Jesus: they were not prepared for any fresh revelation.”

Misunderstanding Jesus is a problem we see again and again in the gospels and it should make us pause and consider.  The religious leaders misunderstood Jesus because they expected a Messiah who would free them from Roman rule.  Who knows what the people of Nazareth were expecting, but obviously Jesus was not it.  Jesus’ own family seem to have forgotten the nature of his birth and the attendant signs.  The disciples were on the right track but still struggled to understand him because Jesus didn’t meet their expectations.  Indeed, it was a lowly Samaritan village that seems to have grasped who Jesus really was first: “They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”” (John 4:42 ESV)

This all leaves me asking the question, “how have we misunderstood Jesus?”  Sure we have more revelation than any of the people at Jesus’ time did, but does this automatically mean that all of our assumptions about how he works and what he teaches are correct?  The liberal/progressive crowd seem to do a good job of seeing the Jesus who was concerned for the marginalized, the stranger, the foreigner, the poor, and the oppressed, but it seems to me that they miss Jesus’ admonition to the individual to “go and sin no more,” not to mention the implications of the cross itself.  My tribe, the conservative/evangelical seems to misunderstand Jesus’ life and message by caring more about future salvation than injustice, inequality and oppression now.  Jesus cared about both the future and the present, taught about both, and gave commands about both.  I have a feeling that if Jesus came to earth now he would upset literally everyone, which in the end, is probably what is necessary.

Which reminds me of this old Colin Raye song:



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