Thy Kingdom Come: In the Church
“Now [Jesus] did not do many mighty works [in his hometown of Nazareth] because of their unbelief.” (Mathew 13:58, NRSV)
Jesus returned to his hometown, Nazareth, and made his way to the synagogue where he began to teach. Those who heard him were astonished by his wisdom. While they were captivated by his authoritative teaching, they also felt some consternation over the fact that this “favorite son” was challenging their religious conventions. He spoke with the authority that was characteristic of the rabbis; however, his perspective was disconcerting as it seemed to be more cavalier with the Law of God than seemed appropriate. So the good people of Nazareth began to walk back in their minds, trying to figure out where things could have gone wrong.
One man asked, “Where did he gain this wisdom? Isn’t this Joseph the carpenter’s son?
Another chimed in, “Yes, he’s Joseph’s son. Joseph, God rest his soul, was a good man, and so was his wife, Mary. Maybe it’s good that he’s gone and doesn’t have to hear this stuff. And poor Mary, does she approve of what Jesus is saying?”
A woman asked, “Are we talking about the same Mary—you know, the one who had four other boys? I babysat them all. They were James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. I think they all turned out alright. And there were daughters, too.”
The first man muttered as he walked away, “This is ridiculous. Where could he have gotten all these outrageous ideas?”
Matthew doesn’t explicitly tell us what he said that was so offensive, but it’s obvious the people of Nazareth were agitated. In Luke’s version of this same story, Jesus calls out the Jews for their unfaithfulness and praises the faith of a Gentile widow and a Syrian leper who experiences healing. The townspeople are so angry they attempt to push Jesus off a high cliff before he mysteriously escapes.
As a result of their rejection of Jesus’ teachings, the people of Nazareth miss out on seeing Jesus do some mighty works. Their unbelief was a suppressant to the deeds of power Jesus usually did wherever he went. Whether it was a case of “familiarity breeds contempt” or an example of “we’ve never done it that way before,” it was a mistake on the part of Jesus’ own people that left them with a lesser experience of Jesus’ power than they could have experienced if only they were more open.
As a church, we must be open to being challenged by Jesus—especially in those areas where we think we’ve got it all figured out based on what we’ve always been taught. The people of Nazareth had thousands of years of precedent upon which they built their faith, and so Jesus’ reinterpretation of the Law was not welcomed. Sometimes, Jesus offends even the most faithful among us. It’s in those times that we have the greatest opportunity for growth—if we choose to believe.