“He came to his home town 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? 55Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?’ 57And they took offence at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour except in their own country and in their own house.’ 58And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.” –Matthew 13:54-58
Every now and again I’m taken off guard by what people find to be offensive, and especially the words that they use to express their feeling offended. My favorite is when someone says, “I find it appalling that….” which is usually followed by something that really isn’t appalling. Recently I overheard a gentleman in the checkout line at the grocery store saying how appalling it was that there were only three registers open. Annoying, yes. Appalling, not even close. Honestly, I’m more appalled that we aren’t going to fund a manned mission to Mars in the next decade, or that every nine seconds a woman is beaten or abused physically in this country…or a hundred other things, than I am that I had to wait maybe another three or four minutes to check out at the grocery store.
My point is that there seems to be a growing number of people who are outraged, who have taken offense, who are appalled by things that just do not require that kind or magnitude of response. One only has to look at the rhetoric coming from our elected civic leaders to see that this has gotten way out of hand.
But this is nothing new, is it? The people who watched Jesus grow up–his own neighbors and family friends are the ones who are up in arms about him coming into his hometown synagogue and displaying, “wisdom and deeds of power.” In our gospel passage from today’s service of Holy Eucharist, Matthew’s recounting of this story is the most succinct of the synoptic gospel accounts. In Luke’s version the people of Nazareth are so appalled that they try to throw him off the brow of a cliff overlooking the town. In each version of this story, however, Jesus is left to a degree, more or less, powerless. Matthew says, “he did not do many deeds of power there,” Mark says that, “he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” (Mark 6:5-6a)
The kryptonite of Jesus is unbelief. In each of the gospels what causes Jesus to be relatively powerless is the fact that those who knew him, grew up with him, and may have even helped to raise him, did not believe, according to Matthew, his “wisdom and deeds of power.” They were blinded by their own unbelief that they literally stymied the love, power, and truth of God. Unbelief is a powerful force indeed.
Hollywood and countless authors have made millions (billions probably) on this theme of belief vs. unbelief. Instantly I think back to one of my favorite books when I was little…
Our commitment to our faith lives fluctuates, at least it does in my faith life from time to time. I wonder, though, where are the moments when we become so “appalled” or so unbelieving that, like the people in Jesus’ own hometown, we fail to see the very presence of God right in front of us? What are the situations where we allow our emotional response of “outrage” to literally blind us to truly seeing the situation, the person, the opportunity that God has given to us? Witness the man who brings his possessed son to Jesus in Mark’s gospel who cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief,” in response to Jesus’ announcement to him that, “all things can be done for the one who believes.”
In so many instances of outrage, offense taken, finding things appalling there is an opportunity for belief, for faith, for the love of God to do in us the deeds of power and wisdom that help to bring the kingdom of God close. Where are those moments for you? Where are our moments of unbelief and how do we turn them into opportunities to reveal Christ to the world?
In Christ’s name,