Continuing the theme of the Holy Family, I’ve chosen for today and tomorrow this extended reflection from our friend, Sister Johanna OSB.
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).
The non-acceptance of Jesus by the people of his own home town of Nazareth seemed extremely sad to me as I pondered this passage for my lectio recently. It also seemed strange. And in the end it even seemed scary. I wondered why was there no sense of local pride in Jesus. I kept turning this over in my mind. When one of ‘our own’ boys becomes famous it reflects well on everyone, I thought. Here was Jesus; everybody knew he had notoriety as a preacher and healer. His reputation was well-established; he was not a beginner still trying to prove himself. Jesus’ ministry had been developing and his following had been growing for some time. He had chosen the Twelve, he had worked marvels. He was, in short, a sensation. Why didn’t the people of his village greet him with excitement and open arms? His name was a name they could have casually dropped to impress their cousins in the next village. It would have been only natural for some of them to brag a bit about, say, knowing Jesus when he was a small boy. Or would it?
It suddenly hits me that we are looking at a different set of natural reactions that surfaced in the town of Nazareth. It seems that the people who knew Jesus from boyhood must have pigeon-holed him long before he showed up in Nazareth that day. According to the text, the people were saying, “This is the carpenter’s son.” In other words, Jesus is only a carpenter. Nothing more. We know his mother and his other relatives, they claimed. They are all ordinary people.
But did they know his mother and his other relatives? I wondered. Certainly his mother Mary was the greatest woman ever to have walked the earth. In saying her ‘fiat’ to the Angel Gabriel, she bore the very son of God. What immense treasures of wisdom and spirituality she must have possessed in her mind and heart. If anyone had had a heart-to-heart talk with her they’d have been bowled over. Did anyone bother to talk to her deeply? Probably not. They were blind to her greatness as they were blind to the greatness of Jesus. And Joseph. His courage in accepting Mary’s miraculous conception, and his docility to the message he received from an angel in a dream makes him too an exceptional human being in every sense. But no one seems to have recognised his greatness either.
It seems to me that this says something important about the life and character of Jesus and the Holy Family. Namely, that they seemed fairly unremarkable, unless you were a person of prayer and faith. Unless you made an effort to relate to them deeply. When the newly pregnant Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, Elizabeth alone knew, through her communion with God, that Mary was carrying the Messiah. But, otherwise, Jesus, Mary and Joseph were not recognised. So they were superb at blending in. They did not draw attention to themselves.
As I continue my reflection, it occurs to me that this is still the case. Jesus, Mary and Joseph will abundantly reward our efforts to relate to them deeply through prayer and an active
spiritual life. But if we do not try to know them, they will remain only discreet presences in the background of our lives. Is that where I want them to be?
I would like to pause this meditation here and continue tomorrow.