Rejection of Jesus
By Thabo Makgoba
Reading from the Gospel of Matthew, 13:53-58
53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.
54 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 offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.” 58And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.
Coming after a series of parables in which Jesus baffled uncomprehending crowds whose hearts had grown dull and whose ears were hard of hearing, Jesus returns to his home town, where any Jewish man was free to teach in the synagogue.
We’re not told of any mighty works he performed there, but whatever wisdom he shared, the fact of his local and humble origins made his own community no more receptive to his message than those alongside the lake. They took offense at him and looked for some explanation which would give them reason to reject his teaching. His family was their point of reference. Where had he gained his power and teaching ability? They knew he did not have formal training like others. So how could he teach as if he were properly trained?
The difficulty which Jesus’s neighbors had in accepting who this person they had watched growing up among them had become is easy to for us to identify with. The stories of the local boy or girl who makes good are popular when they don’t challenge our assumptions and prejudices. But throughout history, there have been those who have been prophets without honor in their own countries, particularly when their messages have sought to upend the social order and confront an unjust status quo.
Pray that we will recognize such people in our own time and place. And it is key that we should ask, with Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25ff), and show God’s compassion to them.
The Most Rev. Dr. Thabo Makgoba is Archbishop of the Diocese of Capetown, South Africa; metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Southern Africa; and chancellor of the University of the Western Cape.
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