A Prophet’s Honor
ʺJesus came to his native place and taught the people in their synagogue. They were astonished and said, ‘Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Are not his sisters all with us? Where did this man get all this?’ And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.’ And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.ʺ (Matthew 13: 54-58)
ʺFamiliarity breeds contempt.ʺ We have all heard this phrase before. Indeed, it is known to us precisely because it is so common. We may even have experienced this phenomenon in our own lives. Jesus experiences this reality in today’s passage from Matthew’s gospel.
This event, in his hometown of Nazareth, takes place well after Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and many healing events. Jesus’ reputation has already been established throughout the countryside. But he has come home to preach to his own neighbors in the synagogue that he would have gone to with his parents, Mary and Joseph, every sabbath while he was growing up. The people would have been very familiar with his parents, might have even called upon Joseph’s skills as a carpenter on several occasions before he died. The women would have talked about the usual, ordinary, everyday things with Mary at the village well, while collecting water for the day. They would have experienced them as just another one of the families in the village, no more ʺspecialʺ in any apparent way than anyone else. Nazareth was a poor village, inconsequential in the larger scheme of things in Galilee, or in Judea. It was made up of hard working, skilled and semi-skilled working people, and some who worked on the land. They would not have been highly educated. No one there would have been considered important in Jewish society. There would have been no scholars, scribes, or Pharisees among them. They would have experienced themselves as just ‘regular folks.’
When Jesus went to that familiar synagogue in Nazareth, among those familiar faces, and began to teach, they were ʺastonishedʺ and ʺamazedʺ at the surpassing wisdom with which he taught the things of God. They took offense at Jesus, thinking of him as ‘uppity.’ Who is he to talk like that? We know his whole family. He goes away for awhile and comes back home among we simple, hard working people and acts like ‘all that.’ʺ They could not believe that this local boy, whose parents they knew so well, whose brothers and sisters were still living among them in Nazareth, could be so wise, or be able to do the mighty deeds that his reputation purported. Indeed, rather than believe in him and his teaching, they felt insulted and were angry at him for his presumed pretentiousness. They let their own prejudices and egos blind them to even the possibility that this young man, Jesus, the son of the remembered carpenter and his widowed mother, who is so familiar to us, could be so wise and so spiritually powerful. I just was not possible to them.
Because of their attitude, Jesus ʺdid not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.ʺ We need to understand here that Jesus is not denying them his ability to perform mighty deeds for them out of his own anger, or frustration, or out of his own bruised pride. He did not perform many mighty deeds there, because they did not have faith. Here we are reminded of all of Jesus’ healing miracles in the gospels, which were accomplished precisely because of the faith of the person who was asking to be healed. Each one of them believed in the depth of their entire being that Jesus had both the desire and, more importantly, the power to heal them. In this way, it was their faith that healed them. This is difficult for us to understand sometimes. We too often think of Jesus’ healing powers as a kind of super ʺmagic.ʺ We know, of course that God has the power and the desire to heal us, but we forget that God’s power is directly related to our freedom, our free choice to believe or not to believe. If we choose not to believe in his desire to heal us, or in his power to do so, we cannot be healed. That is how important our faith is to the process of being healed. Whatever healing we receive is the direct result of a soul-deep dialogue between our own faith in God and God’s own love and desire to answer our need to be healed by his inestimable healing power. This is true, not only for our physical need to be healed, but also for our spiritual need to be healed from the debilitating wounds of are our sins.
Lord, we pray with all of our hearts that you grace us more and more every day with an ever-deepening faith in you. Help us to know you, to love you, and to serve you in this life so that we may, at the end of our lives here on earth, spend the rest of eternity in the joy of your loving presence. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.