Why did Jesus Choose not to Show His Power?

Ez 2:2-5 / 2 Cor 12:7-10 / Mk 6:1-6

Today’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus went to Nazareth “he was not able to perform any mighty deed there…He was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mk 6:5-6). This causes great confusion for some who think it means Jesus was powerless to perform miracles for people who didn’t believe in Him.

But the Gospels clearly teach that there were no limits to Jesus’ power (see Mt. 28:18; Jn. 17:2). So, while St. Mark does imply a connection between the “lack of faith” and the lack of “mighty deeds,” he in no way implies that faith controls Jesus’ power. In fact, the parallel text in St. Matthew’s Gospel says “he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith” (Mt. 13:58), implying that Jesus reacted to their faithlessness by choosing not to perform miracles.

We should remember that Jesus’ miracles were usually prompted by one of two motives: 1) His infinite mercy, or 2) His desire to reveal His divine power. So when St. Mark writes that Jesus performed no miracles in Nazareth “apart from curing a few sick people” he’s pointing out that Jesus did choose to perform miracles of mercy in Nazareth, but chose not to use miracles to reveal His divine power.

 

Still, why did Jesus choose not to show His power? The first thing that the Gospels tell us about this visit is that Jesus “began to teach in the synagogue.” It’s in response to His teaching that His neighbors “were astonished” and “took offense at him.” Perhaps they expected the Messiah to be a great warrior king, and they knew very well that Jesus was not that. Perhaps their pride kept them from submitting to a mere carpenter, or from admitting that for all these years they had failed to recognize this man for who He truly was. Or perhaps they simply didn’t want to believe His message and repent from their sins, and so they rationalized by saying, “what does he know, he’s just a carpenter.”

They knew Him so well — even if He’d kept His wisdom to Himself as He was growing up, surely He hadn’t kept His goodness and holiness to Himself. So if they couldn’t believe what He preached even though they knew Him and loved Him so well, what good would a show of His “mighty deeds” do? Others had attributed His power to Satan (Mk 3:22) — wouldn’t their pride lead the Nazareans to a similar response? Jesus knew that nothing would change their hardened hearts.

This may seem unreasonable to some, and yet it is a common reaction from those who know Jesus. St. Mark was speaking of the Nazareans when he wrote that Jesus “marveled because of their unbelief,” but don’t these words echo in Jesus’ words to His apostles at the Last Supper: “Have I been with you so long, and still you do not know me?” (Jn 14:9).

The reality is that most of us have known Jesus longer than the apostles did, and even longer than His neighbors in Nazareth. He’s come to us in Scripture and the Church, and we’ve seen not only His goodness and love, but also His power. How many miracles has He done for us, how many prayers has He answered? And yet has all that made us any better than the Nazareans: truly faithful and repentant?

Lack of faith does not render God powerless. It merely renders the faithless unworthy of His power.

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