In April 2019, a friend and I walked the Jesus Trail in Galilee from Nazareth to Capernaum. Walking about eight miles a day, up and down hills and through meadows thick with spring flowers and towering thistles, we reached Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee in five days.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all agree that Jesus grew up in Nazareth. Mark notes that after Jesus’ baptism and wilderness experience in Judea, he walks north to Galilee. But rather than returning to Nazareth, he heads for Capernaum.
There he begins a whirlwind ministry of teaching, healing and organizing (Mark 1:14-5:43) before walking the 40 miles to visit his native village.
Rather than being proud of their hometown boy, the villagers are puzzled and somewhat threatened.
“We’ve known this man his whole life! We know his mom and all his brothers and sisters. He’s just a carpenter, not a rabbi! What big-shot seminary does he think he came from to tell us how to behave?”
The villagers acknowledge Jesus’ wise words and his deeds of power, but they reject and misinterpret them. Jesus’ wisdom makes them feel inferior since he’s no longer a tradesman like them.
They resemble the audience in the marketplace in Matt. 11:18-19 — nothing will please them. Any prophetic word Jesus might offer will be twisted and scorned the way an oil executive today might denigrate the predictions of a climate scientist. Thus “he could do no deed of power there” (Mark 6:5).
Just as Woman Wisdom stands in the public square to invite people to acquire knowledge (Prov. 8:1-5), so Jesus teaches in the synagogue — to deaf ears. The citizens of Nazareth thus lose out on Her deeds described in Matt. 11:5: healing the sick, blind and lame. In their ignorance, they fall for Dame Folly.
Moving from Mark’s earthy account in Nazareth to the Jesus of John 14, we barely recognize the same person. The one whose power was limited by human unbelief now claims a spiritual essence and authority that exceeds that of any human or angel.
Our text never mentions Sophia (Wisdom) herself, but her presence underlies any personal claim Jesus makes, since he is described with Wisdom’s language in John’s prologue (1:10-11) and named Logos (1:1), the masculine equivalent of Sophia.
Unlike the Gethsemane agony of the Synoptics (for example, Luke 22:39-46), John’s Jesus is untroubled. He soon will leave this world to prepare a place where he and his disciples can all be together forever. “You know the way to the place where I am going,” he assures them.
Practical Thomas protests, “But we don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know the way? Where’s the map?”
How could those humble Galileans grasp Jesus’ esoteric language? “I am the way,” asserts Jesus. “I am Truth. I am Life. No one comes to God the Father except through me.”
After Philip dreamily chimes in — “Show us the Father” — Jesus shocks him by saying, “Look at me! If you can see me, you’ve seen the Father!”
After a series of extravagant claims, Jesus concedes they may be hard to grasp, so he says, “OK, if you can’t believe I am in the Father and do his works, then believe me because of the works themselves.”
He must mean the teachings and miracles recorded in this Gospel, such as the raising of Lazarus. These “works” (or deeds; it is same Greek word) connect directly to Wisdom herself, since “Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (Matt. 11:19), and Jesus’ “deeds of power” in Mark 6:1-5 are directly connected to his wisdom. He can neither teach nor heal in the presence of foolish unbelief.
What “greater works” can believers do today that reflect Jesus’ works and wisdom?
Since retiring from teaching New Testament at Messiah College, Reta Halteman Finger adjuncts at Eastern Mennonite University, is a contributing editor at Sojourners magazine and writes a bimonthly Bible study blog, Reta’s Reflections, at eewc.com.