The Problem: Unbelief

8 July 2018 – Lectionary 14, Proper 9, Time after Pentecost

Mark 6:1-13

After healing the woman with the flow of blood and raising the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue, Jesus returned home, presumably Capernaum (see Mark 2:1). As was his custom on the Sabbath, he went to the synagogue and “began to teach.” His teaching was met with absolute astonishment and rejection. “They took offense at him,” the evangelist writes.

Jesus’ response highlights a continuing Markan emphasis that those closest to Jesus—his family, his fellow villagers, his disciples—don’t understand who he is and what his message is all about; only the forces of chaos and evil know. Lest his readers fail to get this, the Evangelist sums the problem up: “[Jesus] was amazed at their unbelief.” The problem is not understanding but unbelief.

Verse 6b provides the transition to the next episode. Having been unable “to do any mighty work” at home, Jesus goes to the other villages to teach and, presumably, do the mighty work among them he could not do “among his own.” Then begins another decisive episode in Jesus’ ministry: his commissioning and sending out of the disciples. Jesus gives the twelve “authority over the unclean spirits,” thus enlisting them in the same battle he is waging with the forces of chaos and evil. The instructions Jesus gives them very much follow the pattern Jesus has already set for his own ministry, previously a ministry totally dependent on others. Luke follows Mark here almost precisely while Matthew, it should be noted, omits this pericope from his narrative completely. –– Amandus J. Derr

Ezekiel 2:1-5

The priest Ezekiel is among those taken to Babylon in the first exile around 595 B.C.E. Having seen a vision of “the likeness of the glory of YAHWEH” (Ezekiel 1:28b), the prophet is now confronted with the cost of prophetic ministry: some will hear and respond; some will refuse to hear; but the prophet’s task is to continually proclaim regardless of the response so “they will know that there has been a prophet among them.” This pattern of vision, call, compulsion to prophecy, rejection, is part and parcel of the prophetic tradition—even convention—in the Hebrew scriptures. –– Amandus J. Derr

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

For all intents and purposes, this pericope concludes Paul’s spirited defense of the “weakness” of his ministry, which he has carried on through most of the Corinthian correspondence. “Weakness,” “foolishness,” his “thorn in the flesh,” all the epithets his opponents have used against him, become the very things in which Paul boasts. Consciously or subconsciously, Paul follows the prophetic pattern precisely and draws on that tradition as proof of his apostolic authority.

For both RCL and Roman Catholic preachers, this is one of those rare ordinary-time Sundays when all the pericopes hold together and build around a central theme, “You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear” (2:7); “they will know that there has been a prophet among them” (Ezekiel 2:5b). –– Amandus J. Derr


Amandus J. Derr is senior pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church (ELCA) in New York City.

Homily Service 42, no. 3 (2009): 59-69.

David Turnbloom