(Photo of one of the main intersections of Hometown, PA, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(Originally posted on Speaking to the Soul, Saturday, July 23, 2011)
He left that place and 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 offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, 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. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
Our passage points out that Jesus more than likely suffered a problem anyone who ever grew up in a small town, or attended their high school reunion, can identify with--no matter how renown a person gets, set foot in your home town, and someone invariably cuts to the chase as to "identity." Chances are, the Nazarenes very likely remembered Jesus as a reflection of their own sense of history, propriety, and local gossip, rather than who he was.
"Hey, aren't you Mary and Joseph's boy? I remember you. Precocious little feller. Didn't you run off from your parents for several days when y'all went to Jerusalem, and they couldn't find you, and they found you, bold as brass, sittin' with the Kohenim? I'm tellin' you, if you'd have been my boy, I'd have whupped you silly all the way from Jerusalem to Nazareth."
It was probably things like that, the Nazarenes remembered, rather than choose to accept Jesus' divinity. After all, nothing good ever comes from here. People have a tendency, especially when it comes to healing, to think "the good stuff" is over there. Small town folks swear the local doctors are quacks, and the good ones are at the University. People who work at the University Hospital say, "I wouldn't take my dog there," and use the private hospital in town. Then, of course, there's that crowd that knows for a fact that no one for miles around is any good, and it's the Mayo Clinic or Sloan-Kettering or Barnes-Jewish that cornered the market on "good" doctors.
At any rate, the effect was almost like Kryptonite on Jesus. He healed a few people, but overall, it was not a very rewarding homecoming. In short, most of the locals simply couldn't believe that "Mary and Joseph's boy" could even be close to anything resembling the Son of God. Didn't Mary get pregnant kind of mysteriously? Didn't Joseph get ripped off on the marriage deal, but married her anyway? What was that all about, anyway? And Jesus--he was all set up to take over his daddy's carpentry shop, and he just up and took off--running around with no money, teaching and preaching. What kind of fool would ever think he's even a prophet, let alone the Messiah?
I can only imagine the dismay and frustration Jesus must have felt over this "welcome," as well as the bewilderment and aggravation his family must have experienced over his reply about "prophets without honor." (In fact, I can hear my late grandmother's classic retort to any time I seemed just a little too cool, just a little too superior: "Who do you think you are, Lady Astor's horse?")
Our Gospel story serves as a very important reminder that there are times, no matter how much we love someone or something, no matter how right we feel or excited and committed we are about something, there are times that we are simply not the one called to do the job. There are times our best efforts won't be heard or understood, whether it's at home, at work, or in the life of the parish. Rather than obsessively beat our head against the wall, or pout in the corner licking our wounds, we should take our cue from Jesus in this story--find the ones who are called to do the job, send them out with our best instruction and our blessing, and rejoice in the good that they have accomplished.