Matthew 13: 54-58
Parallels Mark 6: 1-6a; Luke 4: 16-30
54 He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.” 58 And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.
The rejection of Jesus by those in his hometown or country (Greek patrida literally fatherland is behind both words in this narrative) fits within the overall flow of the gospel of Matthew’s structure which existed prior to the chapter divisions and this short narrative of the rejection in Nazareth combined with the death of John the Baptist set the stage for the next group of stories of Jesus’ power and reflections on faith. Throughout the parables we have been warned that many will not have ears to hear, eyes to see or hearts to understand. For the people of Jesus’ hometown familiarity with the relations of Jesus becomes the ‘stumbling block’ or ‘scandal’ (Greek skandalizo) which makes them unable to receive the wisdom that Jesus offers them, presumably in parables.
Earlier in response to the crowd, notably after the disciples of John the Baptist come to him. Jesus would say, “Yet wisdom is vinidicated by her deeds.” (11:19) Now the ones in his hometown recognize both wisdom and the deeds of power, and yet they are unable to receive him. Their unbelief (literally unfaith or lack of faith) it not due to the lack of justification for faith, the wisdom and deeds of power are known and demonstrated even here. There may not be a large number of deeds of power where ‘all the sick’ will be healed as in other places but that is because their lack of faith. As I argued in talking about faith in Matthew’s gospel, faith is an openness or awareness to what God is doing in the world through the presence of Jesus. They are in a synagogue, they can perceive the wisdom and even the deeds of power, but they are unable to connect those realities to the kingdom of heaven’s presence in this one whose father was a laborer (we may associate carpenters with craftsmen, but in this time the Greek tekton is merely a builder/laborer) whose mother and brothers they can name and whose sisters are known among them.
There may be many reasons that people reject wisdom, many stumbling blocks that can cause them to fall, but this is still a world in which the harvest will occur. The seed may fall on the path, or the rocky soil or among the thorns but the sower continues to sow. The weeds and the wheat will grow up together, the mustard seed is sown among the massive field, and the yeast is hidden among the three measures of flour. One discovers a treasure, one a pearl of surpassing value, others good and bad fish that need to be sorted. Yet, even in the midst of no faith Jesus is still able to do something according to Matthew. In a change from Mark’s language where the lack of faith in his hometown makes Jesus unable to do any deeds of power (except for healing a few sick people), in Matthew’s gospel Jesus doesn’t do deeds of power there and the reason is ambiguous. Perhaps it is by choice, why do deeds of power where hearts cannot understand, eyes cannot see and ears cannot hear, perhaps their lack of openness to the kingdom creates a resistance to God’s activity in that place. Regardless there are other fields to tend to and so Jesus and his disciples go where the people are ready to be fed.