The Gospel of Matthew’s account of Jesus’s rejection at Nazareth largely follows the Gospel of Mark’s. But in Matthew 13:58, Mark 6:5’s ‘he could do no (ouk edynato) mighty work there’ becomes ‘he did not do (ouk epoiēsen) many mighty works there’. This departure from Mark’s version is often interpreted as ‘correcting’ Mark’s suggestion of a lack of power in Jesus. In fact, Mark 6:5 actually does mention some healings, so Mark may intend to imply (as some early interpreters like Origen Commentary on Matthew 10.19 thought) that miracles require two elements: divine power and a faithful response to recognize them.
It is often assumed that the apocryphal gospels of Jesus’s infancy took a quite different line, in making him a constant and effective miracle worker from the very beginning. Among the best known of these miracles is the transformation of sparrows the young Jesus had made from clay into real birds (recounted in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas). Indeed, so popular was the story that it not only appears twice in the Qur’an (3.49; 5.110) but also acquired semi-canonical status within Christianity, as can be seen from its appearance in the anonymous fourteenth-century vernacular harmonized gospel text from which this illustration is drawn.
More recent scholarship has disputed an obsessive preoccupation with miracles as the explanation of why these scenes of infant wonder-working appealed to so many. For one thing, such miracles were presented as generating just as much hostility as the adult encounter in Mark 6 and parallels—an episode without accompanying miracles. The reprimanding adult in this manuscript illustration is evidence of that. So perhaps their real motivation can be seen to lie in allowing Jesus to identify with common human concerns, as in this instance with a children’s game of the time.
In some ways, then, these miracles ask to be read alongside the Gospels’ references to Jesus’s expression of human emotions such as compassion and anger or his eating and drinking with ordinary folk—one more way of endorsing John’s declaration that ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (1:14).
Davis, Stephen J. 2014. Christ Child: Cultural Memories of a Young Jesus (New Haven: Yale University Press)
Origen. Commentary on Matthew. 1896. The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Vol. 9—Recently Discovered Additions to Early Christian Literature, ed. by Allan Menzies (Buffalo: Christian Literature), p. 426
6 And on the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue; and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! 3 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. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief.
And he went about among the villages teaching.
53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his own country he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.
16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; 17and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
20 And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth; and they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Caperʹna-um, do here also in your own country.’ ” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Eliʹjah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; 26 and Eliʹjah was sent to none of them but only to Zarʹephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Eliʹsha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naʹaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. 30 But passing through the midst of them he went away.