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JULY 5, 2009: FOURTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Ezekiel 2:2-5
II Corinthians 12:7-10
Mark 6:1-6

Biblical redaction critics enjoy pointing out the changes Matthew made to the story he found in today’s Marcan gospel pericope.

Among other things, redaction critics are interested in how sacred authors alter material they copy from other sacred authors. Such changes help to surface the different theologies which lie behind a specific writer’s work. Since Scripture parallels a newspaper’s editorial page, not its news page, we presume different authors can, and do have different takes on the same incident. No two are exactly alike.

It’s essential for those who study the different theologies of our evangelists to know both Matthew and Luke have a scroll of Mark’s gospel in front of them when they write their own gospels. They not only borrow generously from their predecessor, they also reserve the biblical right to change parts of his writing when they insert them into their works.

As I mentioned above, this alteration is particularly evident when we hear Mark’s account of Jesus’ return to Nazareth, then hear Matthew’s.

Two significant points are Mark’s mention of Jesus’ occupation and his reason for Jesus working so few miracles in his hometown. First, the evangelist quotes Jesus’ former acquaintances put-down remark, “Is he not the carpenter. . .?“ Then Mark mentions, “He was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.”

Turning to Matthew 13:54-58, we find that about 10 years after Mark wrote, Matthew no longer refers to Jesus as “the carpenter.” Now he’s “the carpenter’s son.” Those who wrote after Mark never mention Jesus’ occupation. They free him from such a limiting, undignified line of work. Next, Matthew turns Mark’s statement that Jesus “was not able” to work big miracles into he “did not work many mighty deeds.” There’s a huge difference between could not and did not. Matthew implies Jesus could have performed such acts, but because of their lack of faith he freely decided not to do so. Mark tells us Jesus so depended on people’s faith in him that without it, he couldn’t do certain things.

Matthew’s redaction of Mark’s narrative tells us that already in the early church some of Jesus’ followers were guilty of the same “sin” for which the two evangelists condemn the people of Nazareth. Jesus simply wasn’t anyone special. He didn’t have an exceptional occupation, and he couldn’t do some of the things they were told he did in other towns. Matthew removes two of those restricting elements, turning the historical Jesus into a much more “unlimited” individual.

Those of us who think God only works through exceptional people need to hear not only Mark’s account of Jesus’ Nazareth experience, but also our other two readings.

Yahweh constantly refers to Ezekiel as “son of man,” reminding him of his human roots. (Remember how often the gospel Jesus refers to himself by the same title.) Yet this human being is Yahweh’s mouthpiece, a prophet among Yahweh’s people.

All of us have heard about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” something stopping him from living up to his potential. The Apostle is speaking of himself when he assures the Corinthians, “. . . Power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s imperfections are proof the risen Jesus is working through him.

Perhaps long after we’re dead a Matthew will come along and put us on a pedestal. But at this present moment of our carrying on Jesus’ ministry, Mark’s doing all the writing.