Jesus came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On 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! Is 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 offence at him. Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching.
“They took offence at him.” What was his offence? His background was the same as theirs; he was just like them: “Is not this the carpenter?” But he had not remained in the role the village had assigned to him. Villages can be intensely conservative places. The word ‘conservative’ is in itself a good word: to conserve is to keep intact, to guard. But everything depends on what one is trying to conserve: the best or the worst. Because of the human capacity for self-deception, we can use a fine word to make mean things look good. In the reaction of the villagers to Jesus a narrow village mentality showed itself.
The smaller the society, the more controlling this narrow spirit. “Beneath the charm of the rural town or village, there often lurks a lethal intolerance.” Nazareth was such a place. People who have known you all your life see you as the child you were, even when you are a middle-aged man or woman. They see where you came from and they remember all your youthful mistakes. If they are villagers they also want to make sure you are not getting above yourself; “who does he think he is?” This is a sort of envy, or perhaps something more primitive: a tribal spirit. It tries to destroy you, or at least to discredit you, if you are not just like everyone else.
So we are safe if we don’t live in villages? Unfortunately no. A whole section of society, or even a whole society, can lock itself into a village mentality. Listen for the worst accents of the village in some television programmes, or from some politicians; look for them in the printed media. There we can see, for better and for worse alike, the global village.
The terrible fact is that it works. It tied Jesus's hands: “he could work no miracles there” (v.5). It is a frightful thought that we have the ability to prevent miracles. The villagers wanted to keep him within his limitations: he was a carpenter and the son of a carpenter. But elsewhere the gospel says “he broke through their midst and went his way” (Lk 4:30). We have to break through the midst of many things in order to become adult Christians. Many people, even in the Church, will try to keep us in a pre-adult state. Yes, Jesus said we must be like children: we must have their qualities of simplicity, honesty, freshness…. “Like children,” he said. We must be adults who are like children, not children who are like adults.
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