Scripture: And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 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? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. Matthew 13:53-58 ESV
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Observation: Having arranged a segment of parables addressing the nature of the kingdom of heaven and its workers, Matthew transitions to Jesus’ itinerate ministry as chapter 13 concludes. In the above passage, we read that Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth and teaches at the local synagogue. His wisdom and insights initially amaze the religious leaders and other attendees. But as egos get in the way, they reevaluate their take on Jesus and question how he could exhibit such knowledge and understanding, given his modest familial background.
Offended by Jesus’ presumptuous teaching of these properly-educated religious leaders (as they see it), they hastily pass judgment on him. Thus, Jesus, being able to discern their thoughts, confronts them about their dishonoring attitude and quotes a familiar proverb that calls them out. Matthew adds that Jesus could not perform many mighty works because of their unbelief. In the parallel passage, Mark adds that he was amazed at their lack of faith, but he still laid hands on a few sick people and healed them (Mark 6:5-6).
Of note, the above proverb finds no origin in Scripture other than here and in the parallel passages of Mark 6 (verse 4) and Luke 4 (verse 24) and also in John 4 (verse 44), where John notes that he departed for Galilee (avoiding Nazareth).
Takeaway: Matthew selects the Greek verb skandalizo (translated above as “took offense”) to describe the townspeople’s response when considering Jesus’ status in society. Its literal meaning is “to cause to stumble” (appearing thirty times in the New Testament in various forms of translation). The noun, skandalon, is derived from the secular Greek and refers to a stick that served as the trigger for a snare trap. Eventually, the word developed a second meaning: something that trips a person, causing them to fall. Our New Testament authors apply it figuratively to describe something that causes a person to stumble spiritually. Thus, regarding the above storyline, Jesus’ penetrating teaching spiritually trips his audience. But their lack of faith was the real impetus.
So what’s our takeaway? There are two. First, we must resist profiling. In essence, the above proverb (verse 57) asserts that those most familiar with our childhood upbringing and familial status in society will likely profile us based on what they recall about our upbringing rather than on our present body of work. As the Christian community saved by grace, one’s past should not come into play other than to discern their spiritual growth and current fitness for ministry. To avoid this trap, we must exercise self-awareness regarding our egos. If we take offense to anything other than whether what they say aligns with Scripture and how they say it expresses Christ-like humility and grace, we may need to consider whether our pride or jealousy spurs such a response.
Secondly, and the primary point of this story, if we want to walk upright and not stumble in our spiritual journey, we must walk by faith. And faith is nurtured by love. While the religious leaders that Jesus encountered presented an outward appearance of stalwart faith, their hearts were far from God. In contrast, the broken-hearted who sought hope in God eagerly listened to Jesus’ message. And as they believed, they experienced healing, restoration, and a growing affection for him. It’s the same for us. When we attentively listen to the Word, we grow in our faith and love for the Father and Son. For one builds on the other. And even when we stumble from time to time, our gracious Lord will raise us upright when we turn toward him.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, who exhibited grace, humility, and sacrificial love for you and us in all matters of his incarnate life. And we thank you for your Holy Spirit, who fosters in us a deepening love of and faith in you and your Son. So would you please help us cooperate with the sanctifying work of your Holy Spirit so that we might walk upright by faith, keeping our spiritual sight fixed on your “astonishing” Son? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling