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Politics of Scripture

Redefining Authority: The Political Theology of Rejection in Mark 6: 1-6

The political theology emerging from this narrative calls for a redefinition of authority and leadership. It emphasises qualities like service, compassion, and the capacity to heal and liberate over traditional markers of power like wealth, status, or lineage.

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 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! 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. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown and among their own kin and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Mark 6:1-6


When I served as a curate, a local family asked to have their child christened at our church. I responded eagerly to their email and suggested we meet to discuss the details. However, when the mother came to my office, her reaction was unexpected.

She began by asking, “Are you a Christian minister?” Her question implied doubt, likely because of my Indian origin. I assured her I was indeed a Christian and the minister of our church. She continued to inquire if there were other ministers she could speak with. Eventually, she bluntly stated, “Sorry, we want a white man to do the christening for our child,” and left. This encounter highlighted several prejudices: that I couldn’t be a Christian due to my Indian origin’ that an Indian woman couldn’t be a priest in the Church of England and a deeper bias with a stated preference for a white minister.

This experience was deeply personal. The rejection was based on my identity, with my background as an Asian woman determining my perceived not having ability to function as an ordained priest- the ability to belong in the Church of England.  Reflecting on this, I think of Mark 6, where despite witnessing Jesus’ miracles, the people of his hometown questioned him. Their six questions reflected their perception of Jesus’ background, which influenced their acceptance of him:

  • “Where did this man get these things?”
  • “What’s this wisdom that has been given to him?”
  • “What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?”
  • “Isn’t this the carpenter?”
  • “Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon?”
  • “Aren’t his sisters here with us?”

These questions underscore the perceived impossibility of an ordinary person becoming extraordinary. By weaving the themes of rejection of agency, wisdom, and identity, I will explore the political theology of rejection in Mark 6:1-6.

The Rejection of Jesus’ Agency

The first question, “Where did this man get these things?” relates to the source of Jesus’ power, a recurring theme in Mark’s Gospel. The identity of Jesus and the origin of his authority are frequently questioned, highlighting the tension between societal expectations and Jesus’ reality.

In a world where authority is typically held by those in positions of power, Jesus stands out as an anomaly. He is portrayed as an ordinary man, devoid of any conventional background of power or prestige, yet he wields extraordinary authority, performing miracles and healing the sick. This stark contrast challenges established norms and forces people to confront their deeply ingrained beliefs about power and authority.

This struggle is deeply rooted in social and religious norms that dictate who can possess authority and perform great deeds. The prevailing view is that extraordinary abilities and authority are reserved for those with notable lineage or status, making Jesus’ humble origins a point of contention.

In Mark, Jesus’ authority is depicted as deriving not from human power but from a divine source. This divine authority contrasts with earthly authority that seeks to dominate and control. Jesus’ authority, however, serves others, bringing restoration and wholeness rather than subjugation and dominance.

Mark’s Gospel invites readers to re-evaluate their understanding of power and greatness. It challenges the notion that true authority and extraordinary capabilities are confined to societal elites, presenting a radical vision where the divine can work through the ordinary, where true power lies in service and compassion rather than control and coercion.

The Rejection of Jesus’ Wisdom

The second question focuses on Jesus’ wisdom, uniquely highlighted in Mark, where “wisdom” (sophia) is mentioned only in this context. In Hebrew tradition, wisdom is intrinsically linked to power, especially divine power. By questioning Jesus’ wisdom, the people subtly question his divine power and express disbelief. How could an ordinary person from Nazareth possess divine power? This skepticism is rooted in the belief that wisdom and power are tied to status and background.

In many cultures, wisdom is often seen as a trait of the elite. This is reflected in historical contexts, such as the Indian caste system, where wisdom is traditionally associated with the highest caste, the Brahmins. Such systems reinforce social hierarchies and limit access to knowledge and power for the marginalised.

Against this backdrop, Jesus’ humble origins and profound wisdom present a radical challenge to entrenched norms. The people of Nazareth, knowing Jesus as a carpenter’s son, struggle to reconcile his ordinary background with the extraordinary wisdom he demonstrates. This question about Jesus’ wisdom highlights a broader societal resistance to the idea that wisdom and divine power could emanate from someone of lowly origins.

Jesus’ wisdom offers an alternative perspective that subverts traditional notions of power and authority. It suggests that true wisdom is not confined to the elite but is accessible to all, regardless of background. This democratisation of wisdom is revolutionary, implying that divine insight and understanding can be found among the ordinary and marginalised.

Moreover, Jesus’ use of wisdom contrasts with how wisdom is often employed by the powerful. In many societies, wisdom is used to maintain control and oppress others. In contrast, Jesus’ wisdom is used to heal, liberate, and serve. His teachings and actions demonstrate that wisdom should be a force for good, bringing about positive change and uplifting those in need.

The questioning of Jesus’ wisdom in Mark’s Gospel serves to underline a significant theological and social message. It calls readers to reconsider the sources and purpose of true wisdom and power, challenging the idea that such gifts are exclusive to certain groups. Through Jesus, wisdom is redefined as a divine gift meant to heal and liberate, offering a transformative vision of what it means to be truly wise.

This advocates for the democratisation of wisdom and power. Democratisation of wisdom promotes the accessibility of wisdom to everyone, emphasising that it is not an exclusive trait of the privileged or educated classes. It challenges social hierarchies that restrict access to knowledge and wisdom based on social or economic status, advocating for an inclusive vision where everyone’s insights and understandings are valued. By demonstrating that Jesus’ wisdom comes from a divine source rather than traditional avenues of education or status, the text empowers individuals by affirming the validity and value of their experiences and understandings. This inclusive and collaborative approach to wisdom fosters more equitable and just communities, both in religious and secular contexts.

The Rejection of Jesus’ Identity

Labelling Jesus as a ‘carpenter’s son’ was an attempt to diminish his status, reducing him to an ordinary labourer. This reflects societal bias where humble professions are undervalued. Manual labour and trades are seen as inferior to scholarly or leadership roles, and those engaged in such professions are often not afforded the same respect. By calling Jesus a craftsman, his detractors aimed to undermine his authority and extraordinary abilities.

Referring to Jesus as “Mary’s son” rather than by his father’s name is unusual and potentially insulting, hinting at illegitimacy. In a patriarchal society where lineage and identity are tied to the father’s name, this label serves to marginalise Jesus further. Typically, sons were identified by their fathers, so this deviation breaks with tradition and subtly discredits Jesus, questioning his legitimacy and authority.

Mentioning Jesus’ brothers, who have patriarchal names, emphasises his ordinary family background. This detail fuels the scandal of his extraordinary claims and actions, underscoring the disbelief that arises from his familiar and humble origins. In a society that values social status and heritage, Jesus’ simple, working-class background clashes with expectations of a prophet or person with divine authority. The names of his brothers—common and unremarkable—highlight the contrast between Jesus’ modest upbringing and the remarkable nature of his ministry.

As Ched Meyers (128) points out, the fact that Jesus comes from Nazareth in Galilee further intensifies the dislocation of symbolic space. Nazareth, a small and overlooked village, was seen as insignificant and marginalised within the broader context of the first century. Its obscurity and lack of prestige made it a place of little repute. This sentiment is captured in Nathaniel’s remark, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46), reflecting the common view of Nazareth’s perceived insignificance.

These labels and reactions highlight a significant message of the Gospel: the divine can manifest in the most unexpected places and people. Jesus’ life and ministry challenge the conventional wisdom that associates greatness with high status and noble birth. Instead, they present a vision of a world where divine power and wisdom are accessible to all, regardless of background or social standing. This message is radical and transformative, offering a new understanding of authority and legitimacy that transcends societal norms and prejudices.

This also critiques the legitimacy of authority based on identity. The questioning of Jesus’ origins and my encounter with racial and gender biases reveal how societal norms often invalidate authority and worth based on factors like ethnicity, gender, and social status. This reflects a broader struggle against discriminatory practices that marginalize individuals based on their identity.


The political theology emerging from this narrative calls for a redefinition of authority and leadership. It emphasises qualities like service, compassion, and the capacity to heal and liberate over traditional markers of power like wealth, status, or lineage. This redefinition has profound implications for how leadership is perceived and practiced in both religious and secular spheres.

The political theology of wisdom as presented in Mark 6:1-6 is profoundly relevant in today’s world. It challenges the traditional hierarchies and elitism that still permeate many aspects of society. By advocating that true wisdom and authority are not confined to societal elites but are accessible to all, this theology encourages a more equitable distribution of power and knowledge. In contemporary contexts, where issues of inequality and social justice are increasingly prominent, this perspective calls for the recognition and empowerment of marginalised voices. It emphasizes that wisdom and insight can emerge from any background, promoting inclusivity and collaboration. By redefining authority and wisdom as rooted in service, compassion, and the common good, this political theology offers a powerful framework for addressing modern social challenges and fostering a more just and inclusive world.

Reflecting on my experience with the family who rejected me as a minister, I realise the importance of resilience and affirming one’s identity. Despite their bias against my background, I persisted in my role, drawing strength from the example of Jesus. Like him, who continued his ministry despite rejection and prepared his disciples to face similar challenges, I found a lesson in persistence and dedication. This narrative inspires a vision of a more inclusive society, recognizing and valuing true power and wisdom regardless of background.

In a world that often overlooks the extraordinary in the ordinary, we are called to open our eyes to authority in unexpected places and to challenge our prejudices. While society tends to seek greatness in grand gestures and prestigious titles, the divine frequently manifests in unassuming forms. Whether it’s a humble carpenter’s son from Nazareth or an unexpected voice in our communities, true authority and inspiration often emerge from the margins.

This perspective encourages us to seek the divine in everyday encounters and to value voices that challenge our preconceived notions. By doing so, we affirm our identities and contribute to building an inclusive society that appreciates diverse expressions of wisdom and authority.

My journey as a minister wasn’t one of solitary struggle. When the family that initially rejected me approached my incumbent, they had to confront their gender bias since she was a woman. Their preference for her white skin made them reconsider, but she stood in solidarity with me, stating that if they could not accept me, she would not serve them either. This act of solidarity was a powerful challenge to their prejudices, emphasizing the strength found in community and the importance of standing together against discrimination. True ministry, as this demonstrated, embraces acceptance, love, and justice rather than appeasing biases. This shared commitment to these values highlights the transformative power of unity in confronting exclusion.

Everyone is called to stand firm in their convictions and support those facing prejudice, striving to build a community where everyone is valued and accepted. Together, we can work towards a world that celebrates diversity and inclusivity, recognizing the extraordinary in the ordinary and the sacred in the overlooked. By supporting each other, we can create a society that reflects the inclusive and loving nature of the divine, where all are welcomed and cherished.

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