June 3, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: Rejection at Nazareth

See Matthew 13:54-58, Mark 6:1-6 & 3:21, 31-35, Luke 4:14-30 & 8:19-21, John 7:5

We get some idea of just how ­“hidden” most of Jesus’ life was when we read about the reaction of those who knew him well while he lived in Nazareth. It’s a large city today, but in Jesus’ day its population was probably no more than about 120 people. It’s no wonder that Nathanael asked Philip, “Can any good come from Nazareth?”

When word got back to Nazareth that Jesus was preaching and healing people in Capernaum, about 20 miles away, the citizens were astonished. This guy never showed any brilliance before; how could he be doing those things now? So they watched him carefully when he returned to Nazareth and, as he always did while he was living there, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath.

Jesus stood up and read from a scroll of Scripture. He chose the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 61, in which the prophet spoke of one whom the Lord anointed, the Messiah. Jesus then claimed that the prophecy was fulfilled in him. He was fulfilling the Old Testament hopes and expectations.

The people couldn’t buy that. They thought they knew him too well. Jesus understood their reaction, for he said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.” He went on to mention a couple incidents in the Old Testament when the prophets Elijah and Elisha performed wonders outside of Palestine, thus claiming to be a prophet like them.

That was too much for the Nazarenes. Luke’s Gospel says they turned murderous and tried to throw him off a cliff, which seems a bit drastic. Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels only lament the Nazar­enes’ lack of faith and say that he worked few miracles in Nazareth because of that lack of faith.

But that lack of faith extended even to “his own house.” John’s Gospel is even more direct, saying, “His brothers did not believe in him.” At another time, when Jesus was back in Capernaum, his mother and brothers came and, as Mark’s Gospel says, “They set out to seize him for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” They apparently thought that someone had to restrain him for his own good.

What happened when they arrived? Told that they were there, Jesus appeared to reject them, saying, “Who are my mother and brothers? Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

But no, that’s not a rejection. For Mary, above all, did the will of God. St. Augus­tine said that she was more blessed for having received God in her soul than for having conceived God in her flesh.

Jesus simply used his relatives’ arrival to make a point: Just as he always did God’s will, so must everyone else who wants to have a relationship with him. Jesus’ family consists of those who hear the word of God and act on it, just as he did. †


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