He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching.
There was a Thomas Wolfe novel by the name of "You Can't Go Home Again" about an author who writes a book that reveals a few too many truths about his hometown. While the book is very popular and highly acclaimed elsewhere in the country, people from his past make it very clear he is not welcome to return home again. Today in our Gospel, Jesus gets a taste of this inhospitality himself.
While he has already begun his ministry and developed a reputation abroad for the wisdom and authority of his teaching, and for the power he demonstrates in and through miracles of healing, he has a very different reception on his return to Nazareth. Nazareth was probably a very small town, no more than a 1000 people, and very likely most of them were inter-related. It was a very tight knit community, and its population had a reputation in the region for being a bit backward in its thinking.
You probably know that one of the beautiful things about being from a small town is that everybody knows you. They know your family, they know your business, and people look out for each other. You can walk down the street and say hello to people by name. There is a sense of being part of a community, and as you know here in Port Pirie, that is a very fine thing.
But every light casts a shadow, doesn't it?
You probably also know that the downside of living in a small town is that everybody knows you... or at least they presume to. People presume that in knowing who you are, what kind of family you come from, and what you do, they have sized you up-- measured your character and your quality. This kind of knowledge can be a sort of power. Do you know what I am talking about when I say that knowledge can be power?
We can use our presumed knowledge for two purposes in particular. We use it to define and label people, assessing who's in and who's out, or who is considered a good bloke and who is a black sheep. We can cage people with our expectations of them and keep them in that box their whole lives.
We can use our presumed knowledge to keep people in their place, keep them from becoming too big for their britches. Here in Australia, you call this the peril of the "tall poppy," so that if a person really is talented or excells, they better not shine too bright otherwise they will get cut down to size. We can also control people's reputation through our gossip, sinking people with a single rumor.
Do you know what I am talking about? Why do you think we do this?
If I am not mistaken, the reason we do this is that we are a bit ambivalent about being known. On one hand, it is nice to be really familiar with people, part of a big family that looks out for its own. On the other, there is a kind of vulnerability it being known that is hard because we can feel more vulnerable to judgments and attacks. So, we can at times use our presumed knowledge of others as a defense. Does this make sense?
This can make it very hard for gifted people to remain, or for young people to develop their skills and abilities in such a way that they can find appreciation and appropriate acclaim. In this way, tightly knit communities can enforce a kind of safe mediocrity on themselves, protecting themselves from threats or surprises.
Jesus himself is not immune to this experience. How it must have pained him to return to this hostile reception. It isn't so much that his own townspeople don't welcome him. They will welcome him so long as he is willing to play the role assigned to him-- the carpenter, the one people still gossip about because he was born nearly out of wedlock under mysterious circumstances. There is no way this one could be as special as his reputation says he is. Where could he have learned all that he is saying?
What lesson can we draw from this? It seems that we are being invited to refrain from presuming that we know others so well that they cannot grow, change, and perhaps surprise us. And most of all, perhaps we have to avoid presuming to know how God works in our lives. Maybe it is most important that we avoid putting God in a box and instead allowing God the room to surprise us, perhaps even work a miracle.