One issue that perplexed the early church was why, if Jesus really was the fulfilment of the Hebrew scriptures (as they believed), his own people rejected him. This episode offers one explanation: those closest to something are often unable to perceive its significance. Indeed, in Mark 6:4 we find a popular proverb being quoted to that effect: ‘[a] prophet is not without honour, except in his own country’. Meanwhile the previous verse indicates that it is precisely because the people know Jesus’s family well that they doubt that he could have any larger importance. The result is that in Nazareth Jesus ‘could do no mighty work’ (v.5).
Nathan Coley’s (b. 1967) installation There will be no Miracles Here (2007–9) now stands prominently in the grounds of the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two) in Edinburgh. Its inspiration came from a situation at the opposite extreme to that envisaged in Mark: too many miracles. This radiant announcement echoes and subverts a seventeenth-century royal proclamation aimed at curtailing the stream of pilgrims to the French village of Modseine which had laid claim to frequent miracles. These claims were to stop, by order of the King.
Yet at another level the Gospel proclamation and this royal announcement address situations not all that different. Both are managing expectations. If the authorities in France feared losing control of a situation of heightened religious excitement, the Gospel feels the need to offer an explanation of an anomalous situation that is its concern: why was Jesus rejected in his home town? Why was there no ‘mighty work’?
In an earlier work, the Lamp of Sacrifice (2004), Coley recreated 286 places of worship in Edinburgh in cardboard. The artist’s title alludes to John Ruskin’s positive view of Christianity laid out in The Seven Lamps of Architecture (published 1849). However, the presentation of churches in this way probably raised questions for a general viewer. What was the value of what was being presented?
Similarly, in the absence of any background knowledge, viewers are interrogated about the status of the statement ‘There are no miracles here’. They must decide for themselves what the meaning and legitimacy of such a declaration might be.
Morrison, Ewan. 2017. Nathan Coley (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland)
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.