01 February 2012

Blinded by what is familiar...

Jesus went away from there and came to his own country; and his disciples followed him. 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! 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. 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." And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching.

St. Mark 6:1-6

When Jesus came to Nazareth, it led to a difficult situation. He was coming to His home town. These were the people who had known Him since He was a boy among them, and because they had known Him for so long, there was no hesitation to criticize Him. The situation is well within the experience of most people – a member of our family, or someone we’ve known all our lives, moves on to some great success. At first we’re proud that we know him. But then people begin to pick at him and his new life. Observations like, “I remember when he used to get into things as a kid around here,” and “I used to babysit for him, and I remember changing his diapers,” pretty soon lead to statements like, “He sure thinks he’s important,” and “Look at him, coming back here and acting like he’s better than everybody else.” There’s an old saying: “Familiarity breeds contempt,” and that’s what happened to Jesus as He came back to Nazareth.

This wasn’t a casual visit meant to renew old acquaintances and to visit His mother Mary. No, He came this time accompanied by his disciples – that is to say, he came as a rabbi, a teacher. He went into the synagogue and He taught, and His teaching wasn’t received with enthusiasm, but instead they heard it with contempt – “…and they took offense at him.” He opened up the scriptures to them, and told them that the words of the prophets were being fulfilled, but all they could see in front of them was a man whom they had known for years, and who had worked in the local carpenter’s shop. They couldn’t imagine that a mere carpenter would have the kind of wisdom that seemed to be contained in his words.

And there’s another interesting thing in this passage. They said, “Is not this Mary’s son?” - a clear indication that Joseph had died by this time, which meant that His mother was simply a local widow being cared for by her extended family, with no particular position in society. And they said, “Don’t we know his brothers and sisters?” Now, of course, the words for brothers and sisters are really from the more generic idea of “family” or “cousins,” so it’s apparent that Jesus had plenty of relatives who were just ordinary residents of Nazareth.

So then, the people of Nazareth despised Him because they knew His family and He was just a working man. The result of all this was that Jesus could do no mighty works in Nazareth. The people wanted something more dramatic, they wanted someone more mysterious and perhaps more famous to give them the message Jesus was giving them. But God most often works through the familiar. Water, oil, bread, wine, even imperfect men can communicate to us the Living God. He became one of us so that we can become one with Him. If people refuse to understand that, then they are missing the opportunity of opening wide the door for our Lord Jesus Christ, who stands at that door and knocks.