An Idol of Jesus

By James Cornwell

A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 6:1-13

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. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.


Jesus and his disciples had returned to his home country. He began teaching in the synagogue, and, as in other places, people were astonished by what he taught. But whereas in other places audiences were astonished into either faith or rage, here Jesus found himself confronted by startling indifference. Those who heard Jesus speak, no doubt, were so familiar with Jesus prior to his earthly ministry that they refused to take his status as a prophet seriously. At least those who hated Jesus in other places were taking him at his word. Here Jesus reportedly “marveled because of their unbelief.”

This passage presents us with a crucial question: Have we become too familiar with a particular image of Jesus? Have we ever been confronted with astonishing things he’s said — perhaps even scandalous things — and reacted just as the citizens of his hometown reacted? Perhaps we say something like, “This doesn’t seem like the Jesus that I’ve known all these years,” and rather than being astonished into reflection or faith, we dismiss what we hear as not worth taking into account.

A singular temptation of Christians — especially Christians who are strongly engaged with the Church and know Jesus well — is to make a firm image of Jesus in our hearts and minds, an image that can quickly become an idol. If we lose our sense of the strangeness of Christ, and only encounter him with the familiarity of an old family friend like the citizens in today’s gospel reading, we run the risk of missing what he actually has to say. Only Jesus has the power to speak the word and heal us; our graven images of him are but dumb idols.

James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their seven children.

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Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Kiteto – The Anglican Church of Tanzania
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Lake Mary, Fla.


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