The continuation of Sister Johanna’s reflection on his own people’s rejection of the Jesus whom they thought they knew.
They said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? This is the carpenter’s son, surely?” …And they would not accept him. (Matthew 13:54,57; New Jerusalem Bible).
We’ve been meditating on Matthew 13: 54, 57, and on the fact that no one much in Nazareth seems to recognise the fact that Jesus is a prodigy. They claim to know his relatives, and imply that the family is nothing special, and that Jesus has no reason to be giving himself airs and preaching in the synagogue.
As I ponder this message from Matthew and try to grasp what Jesus’ personality might have been like, I am mindful of the fact that there are some people who, even as children, have a propensity to be ‘out there’ in the public eye. They are always the centre of attention; in any group they are the ones who are doing the most talking, telling the jokes and voicing their thoughts. They are smart and able to manage situations so that people notice them. They’re natural politicians, good at influencing public opinion. But judging from today’s text, this ego-driven behaviour would not be an accurate way to imagine Jesus. Here was a man who had never been a show-off. Jesus was simply ‘the carpenter’s son.’ He was a carpenter himself, and fulfilled the obligations of his profession without calling attention to himself. His workmanship, surely, was of an excellence that resulted in plenty of work for himself and Joseph; it was self-supporting but not self-aggrandising.
Then, suddenly, the one who built the cupboards was teaching in the synagogue? This text from Matthew’s gospel seems to expose an undercurrent of resentment that the people of the town directed toward Jesus. He was stepping outside the role they had given him. How dare he! A carpenter’s son, in their opinion, wasn’t supposed to do this.
Moving back now from this train of thought, it seems to be time to ask myself what this short gospel passage tells me. My first answer can only be that it tells me that this is what people are like. It tells me that this is probably (though I’m loath to admit it) what I’m like. We don’t want anyone disrupting the order to which we’ve become accustomed, even if the disrupter is a prodigiously gifted preacher who thinks outside all the boxes, and who would open my mind to an exciting new spiritual world. To this, the Nazarenes said, ‘No thank you.’ As I ponder again the recognition that Elizabeth gives to the young Mary when Mary visited her, though, I realise that this story of Jesus preaching in the synagogue of his home town could have been very different if there had been enough people of true prayer living in Nazareth. It is Elizabeth’s communion with God that gave her the ability to recognise Mary as the great woman she was whose faith would change the world. This scares me and throws me back on myself, and on the responsibility I have to cultivate an attitude of prayerful openness to the surprising acts of God – and if I don’t? The consequences could be disastrous, as the gospel text points out.
The text says in verse 58 that Jesus ‘did not work many miracles there because of their lack of faith.’ What a horrible indictment. But, yes, I see that this must be the inevitable conclusion to this tale. The Nazarenes’ faith extended only to what they were used to. It did not extend to what was truly revelatory and unforeseen – present in Jesus. This made it impossible for Jesus to be fully Jesus there. He could not do what he so longed to do: heal; lead his own people closer to the Father. They lacked faith on a profound level. This kind of lack of faith involves a determination to stay the same, a refusal to allow the unexpected to be a sign of God’s work, a deliberate closing of the mind, a turning away from something new without considering that it may be an offering from God. And when we say No in this ultimate sense, even God will not push. These few lines from Matthew’s gospel expose a tragedy.