The following passages from chapter 6 of the gospel of Mark explain what happened when Jesus had already begun His ministry but returned to Nazareth:
1 Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him. 2 And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! 3 Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” So they were offended at Him.
4 But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” 5 Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And He marveled because of their unbelief. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.
Verse 4 is famous; people quote that a lot. But it’s verse 5 that has always intrigued me, especially the part I put in bold. Of course I’m dependent on the English translations, but at face value, in context it suggests that Jesus could only heal people who believed in Him. In other words, the verse does not say “He refused to do a mighty work,” or even the more neutral “He did no mighty work.” Nope, it says “He could do no mighty work,” except for some minor healings that aren’t impressive for Jesus.
I don’t want to bring up the theological implications at the moment, but just from reading the passage, it sure sounds like Jesus needs the crowd to be with Him in order to really show the full potential of His power.
There are other passages too where you see this theme. On several occasions (here’s just one), Jesus will say words to the effect of, “Your faith has healed you,” as opposed to, “My power just healed you.”
Even the apparent counterexample of Lazarus is more nuanced than I had remembered (since I just re-read it). When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, obviously Lazarus himself wasn’t alive to “really believe it” and so somehow psychosomatically heal himself. However, before raising Lazarus Jesus has an exchange with his sister Martha, who volunteers that Jesus not only could have prevented Lazarus from dying, but even now has the power to bring him back. She also affirms that He is the Christ.
Then, even later when Martha warns Jesus that Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days and that there would be a stench–a sign of disbelief–Jesus reminds her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” So even the story of Lazarus, which I had always filed away as a counterexample of people being healed by their faith in Jesus, is actually a lot more nuanced.
I don’t really have a major conclusion here, just pointing out that this passage always struck me as very interesting. On the one hand, the gospels portray Jesus as God Himself, and yet on the other, there are several places where it sounds as if God can only help us if we’re at least receptive to it. Indeed, that’s arguably the central message of Christianity itself: Jesus will give you eternal life, but it only “works” if you believe that He can. Try this story for a perfect illustration.
Last point: I realize our atheist friends will be able to twist this into a sadistic God in need of constant praise before He relents from punishing people. OK, that’s one way of looking at it, but reading the accounts of Jesus that’s certainly not how He is portrayed. He wants to do mighty works in Nazareth, He wants to gather the children of Jerusalem as a hen gathers her chicks, but they refuse to accept His help.