Mark’s Gospel records the famous statement of Jesus that “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home” (Mark 6:4). These words were spoken in a context which explains them, but which may seem puzzling: “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them” (Mark 6:5).
Reading these words, that “He could not do any miracles there…,” we understand that it was the lack of acceptance and faith in who he was that led to the lack of miracles, but does Mark mean that Jesus was unable to do miracles in his home area?
We should first understand that the divinity of Christ was not dependent upon man in any way and could not be limited by man (John 1:1-4). God can perform miracles in any circumstance whether the onlookers believe or not. So Mark must mean something other than that Jesus was unable to do the miraculous works he would have normally done. Remember, Mark does say he performed some healings, and Matthew’s account confirms that he “did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith” (Matthew 13:58).
The use of “He could not do any miracles there” in Mark can be understood in the same way that we use the expression “cannot” in circumstances where we should not or feel constrained not to do something. If we are encouraged to do something we know is wrong by someone, we might say “I can’t do that” –meaning that we are constrained by our beliefs or moral obligations. The Greek expression used in Mark 6:5, ouk edunato “he could not,” is often used in the same way. It appears, for example, in Jesus’ parable of the neighbor who is invited to a feast but says “I cannot (ou dunatai) attend because I have just been married" (Luke 14:20). It is not that the invited man was physically unable to attend – just that he felt constrained not to do so.
The Son of God could certainly have performed many miracles in his home area had he chosen to do so, but he clearly felt constrained by the unbelief of the people there. Remember that the miracles Jesus performed were not just displays of power – they were signs of His divine authority and witnesses to his call to people to repent and obey God. If he knew the people in his home town of Nazareth were not ready for that message, or willing to accept it at that time, they might have been jeopardized by the fact that they were given signs but still refused to obey God. Doubtless it was with sorrow that Jesus withheld the power he could have used there.
Is there a lesson in this for us? Perhaps there are times in our own situations when God would be pleased to perform certain things in our lives, but chooses not to do them because we lack the faith to receive them or are not ready for the responsibility such things would bring. We must remind ourselves that this is the purpose of continued growth in faith – the more we grow, the less God constrains Himself in what He accomplishes in us.