Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these parables, that He departed from there. When He had come to His own country, 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 this not the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things? So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house." Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.
- Matthew 13:53-58
Chapter 13 of Matthew's Gospel introduces us to Jesus' use of parables in His ministry. It is a distinct turning point, occurring at the same time as it is clear that the religious authorities begin to plot against Him. He began with the parable of the Sower and its explanation in private to His disciples (see 13:1-23). He then gave the parable of the Wheat the Tares, and then the parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven. Once again in private, the disciples asked Him to explain the parable of the Wheat and the Tares to them. Then, in yesterday's reading, Jesus taught: "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth." Jesus said to them, "Have you understood all these things?" They said to Him, "Yes, Lord." Then He said to them, "Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old."
Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these parables, that He departed from there. When He had come to His own country, 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 this not the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things? So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house." Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief. Jesus' own country is His hometown of Nazareth. These are His neighbors and those who know His family, in the place where He spent His life prior to His ministry. They all know Him as the carpenter's son. They know His mother called Mary, and His extended family (called brothers and sisters in common parlance). How is it possible this is the same Man, and more precisely, where did He get this wisdom and these mighty works? My study bible notes the double response of both marveling and rejection (here they are astonished and offended) -- something that occurs frequently in those who encounter Christ (Luke 11:14-16, John 9:16). His rejection in His own country fulfills the rejection of the Old Testament prophets (as He will also allude) such as Elijah and Elisha, and foreshadows His rejection by the nation at His trial before Pilate (John 19:14-15). My study bible says that Christ accepts His death in accordance with the Father's will -- not that of His persecutors who plot against Him. This statement about the rejection of prophets is so essential that it appears in all four Gospels (see also Mark 6:4, Luke 4:24, John 4:44).
This story of rejection in Jesus' hometown of Nazareth comes, as we've noted above, at a turning point in Jesus' ministry. It has become clear that He's being rejected by the religious leadership, and they've begun to plot against Him. At this stage, it becomes significant that He teaches in parables, as His Church is to go out to all the nations, to the Gentiles. His teaching comes in forms that are "hidden in plain sight" in the parables, as His desire is to appear to those "with ears to hear and eyes to see." No longer will this be only about one people, but rather about an extension of the people of God who come from all of the world, who have spiritual eyes and ears to discern His message, who truly desire it -- like the pearl of great price in yesterday's reading, or the field that contains the great treasure worth all else. This is what He's looking for. It's important to remember that He first loved us. No matter what else we know, we know this. As the prophets have been sent and rejected, as Jesus was sent and rejected, so we know that He first loved us. God's love has been present for us from the beginning, is present with us, will always be the reality of God in relationship to us. The question really is how we respond. If we read all of chapter 4 of John's First Epistle, what we see is that it is the "language" of love, the communication of love, that really defines faith and fleshes it out, gives us its fullness. It takes that response of love to know love, a mutual communion, in which not only do we grow in the relationship with God, but we also are to grow in relation to one another -- in which we learn love. That's what gives us the fullness of real discipleship. But it starts with God's love -- and our spiritual eyes and ears for discernment are linked to our own capacity to respond to love as disciples. This is the great key. What we see in those who are resentful and in their rejection of Christ is often a very material point of view, one that focuses on competition: Who does He think He is? How can He get this stuff? He, and the prophets before Him, upset the social order. They "speak truth to power," if we are to quote a slogan that's used in circumstances quite far away from the truly prophetic if it's not used with love as true communion. But it's just in that aspect of true prophecy that we have to understand love: love is not the kind of all-coddling, self-serving 'materialistic' notion that so many people have. Such a self-serving notion is not the antidote to the over-harsh discipline of what is called love but is abusive. The antidote to what is not love is love that is all about truth, that wants the best from us, that will also correct in order to save -- and whose true characteristic is that our service to that love is always something that strengthens, ennobles, and broadens us. And that's where we really need to have ears to hear and eyes to see. We need to perceive that love so that we respond to it, no matter how different or shocking or upsetting its form may be on the surface. This is the real key here to Jesus' ministry. The One who loves us best is not going to just hold our hand and say that right where we are is perfect; on the contrary, He's going to pull and stretch and grow us beyond what we can see today, right now and right here -- beyond what we already know. The prophets come in many forms, Christ is the Teacher of all, the Holy Spirit works in us and among us in myriad ways, and the Father sends all of this -- from love -- for us. It is we who must recall that wisdom is justified by her children. Can we respond when love asks for us to stretch beyond 'our own country and our own house?'