I’ve always been struck by the Gospel account of Jesus returning home to Nazareth and the rejection he faces there. Today’s Gospel tells us the story.
Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples.
When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue,
and many who heard him were astonished.
They said, “Where did this man get all this?
What kind of wisdom has been given him?
What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!
Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary,
and the brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon?
And are not his sisters here with us?”
And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them,
“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place
and among his own kin and in his own house.”
So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,
apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.
He was amazed at their lack of faith.
The opposition Jesus faced in this instance wasn’t one of rejection rooted in the unknown, as if he were a stranger. Instead, the resistance to Jesus comes precisely from familiarity, from a people who thought they knew this man and had him figured out. The incredulity of the crowd is striking because it is tied to the fact that Jesus doesn’t conform to their way of thinking about him. He’s supposed to be a simple carpenter’s son, a boy we say growing up, the relative of family members we know well. Where does he come off teaching, preaching, healing in this way? Who does he think he is?
I think many of us, at different points in our lives, can relate to both Jesus and the crowds in this passage.
We know Jesus’s struggle when we have been judged unfairly or inaccurately, or when we’ve taken a particularly noticeable detour from some previous course in life. If we no longer conform to the image of who or what we should be according to others, it can lead to incredulity, dismissal, or even rejection.
And yet, I would bet, we can relate just as much or even more often to the crowd. Our first judgments about someone tend to stay indefinitely. We can quickly form opinions about others, put them into boxes, label them, and categorize them according to our own expectations or preferences rather than allow them to be themselves. It is difficult to let go of these early and long-lasting judgments. It requires of us a real embrace of humility to be open to change and to listen, see, and accept who the other truly is.
May we strive to be less like the crowds and more like those open to the encounter with another without our prejudice or presuppositions leading the way. May we consider people by their words and deeds and not simply by our expectations of them. May we find that when we are in Jesus’s shoes, misunderstood or wrongly judged, we do not let it get in the way of our mission to be loving, merciful, and forgiving disciples in the world.