And He could do no miracle there except He laid His hands upon a few sick people and healed them. Mark 6:5 NASB
Could do no – Do miracles depend on our faith? If we don’t believe, does our unbelief hinder God’s ability to perform? Was Yeshua hampered because people in His hometown didn’t acknowledge Him as the Messiah? Do we have to believe before God can act?
Recently a man asked my opinion about the implications of this verse. Was it really true that the lack of faith of the villagers made it impossible for Yeshua to do miracles? What does that mean for us? What if we are skeptical or doubting? Can Yeshua still act on our behalf? I suggested that Mark’s passage be compared with the parallel in Matthew. That verse says: “He did not do many acts of power there due to their lack of emunah” (Matthew 13:58). The parallel in Matthew in Hebrew suggests that he did not do many miracles there, not that he could not do. The verb in the Greek text in Mark is from dunamai, which can mean both “to be able” and “to have power.” In Mark it is imperfect passive, indicating that it was a continuing action brought about by someone else. However, in Matthew the verb is poieo. It is aorist, active. It indicates that Jesus chose not to do miracles. We have a conflict in the implications of these two texts. That means we need to interpret the texts in the light of other indications about Yeshua’s character. While I cannot explain why Mark treats the incident as passive, it seems to me that Matthew captures what I know about Yeshua. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that Mark actually says he did do some minor healings, so in spite of Mark’s passive construction, it is obvious that Yeshua was not completely prevented from performing miracles.
If we step back just a bit, we recognize that Mark may be saying Yeshua did not perform any miraculous signs. The townspeople of Nazareth had already made up their minds. This man could not be the Messiah. They knew he was nothing more than a carpenter’s son. Under those circumstances, there was little point in demonstrating their error by providing them with a spectacle of power. They would not have accepted it anyway. And Yeshua never used miracles to prove a point. That would have been inconsistent with the humility of the Suffering Servant. Mark notes that Yeshua did heal a few sick people. This is mission-fulfilling work. But He is not interested in the crowd that only wants proof. Accepting Yeshua as the Messiah is not a matter of spectacle.
It seems to me that Matthew’s Hebrew gospel explains the situation with greater clarity. Yeshua chooses not to perform a miracle because the purpose of miracles is not to convince the skeptics. Miracles for skeptics are usually temptation; the same temptation we find in Yeshua’s confrontation with the evil one. Appropriately, he refused then and he refuses now. When they occur, miracles serve God’s purposes, not ours, although occasionally the two perspectives coincide. The point is that miracles are an act of grace, not obligation. If God acts with miraculous benevolence toward His children, we are blessed – and grateful. If He does not, we are nonetheless blessed – and grateful – because His purposes are fulfilled in either case. “Our God is able to save us from this fiery furnace, but if He does not, we are nevertheless still His servants.”
Topical Index: miracle, could not do, dunamai, poieo, Matthew 13:58, Mark 6:5