Matthew, Mark and Luke agree: Jesus did not go down well with the people of his native place, his own country or ‘fatherland’. If he had come preaching doom and destruction as Jeremiah did their reaction would be more understandable. But he comes speaking words of grace, a time of healing, reconciliation and restoration.
Part of the reason for their reaction might have been small town thinking. ‘Sure he’s from around the corner’, we might hear someone saying about a person who is gaining a reputation elsewhere. It seems that we do not expect greatness to be local, familiar or ordinary. ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’, is Nathanael’s first reaction when he hears about Jesus. But great people have to come from somewhere. And the New Testament teaches us over and over again that God’s preference is usually for the ordinary, that God works through the ‘poor of the Lord’, the ordinary people from ordinary places: Mary of Nazareth, Peter of Capernaum, Saul of Tarsus.
‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?’ He is acting from something we did not put into him and operating from somewhere other than the culture we gave him. He is outside the education he received from us and outside the values and limits within which we shaped his formation. ‘We know where he’s coming from’ is another way of putting this, we know what we’ve put into him, and yet he does not say ‘Nazareth made me’. He speaks as if he comes from somewhere else and acts from a source of power with which we are not familiar. He returns to us with a wisdom that is beyond us.
There is always the danger, especially for people who think they have come to know Christ, of domesticating Him, thinking we know where He is coming from and what He is about. We can think we have identified the limits of what is to be known about Christ, the channels within which He will act, and the ways in which He can be present. But His wisdom and action remain available only for those who have faith, that is, for those who remain open to receive fresh truth, unexpected signs, and new freedom.
On the other side there is always also this hope: that there is a greatness in us that is yet to be seen. No matter how ordinary and banal we believe our origins to be, no matter how ordinary our culture or experience up to now, the same gift of faith teaches us that we have not yet reached the limit of what can be asked of us. Jesus comes to visit all our Nazareths, we might say. He brings His wisdom and power to bear there, calling and enabling everyone who listens to Him to love more. This means also to know more, and to do more, for it is in love that Christian greatness consists.
He is the hound of heaven: we must not turn him into a poodle. He remains always strange, free, other, different, receiving us with great gentleness but calling us to new things. The Love we believe Him to be – the divine wisdom and power – is always creating, always renewing, always ready to unveil the extraordinary gift waiting in the most ordinary of places.