We follow Jesus, the carpenter’s son, right?…
(CUSA) – This reflection was written by a professor of Historical Theology at the University of Wales, Lampeter.
He asks a simple but important question based upon today’s Gospel: Do we have genuine faith or do we dismiss the truth because it comes in ordinary life? Because God’s goodness can be so close and so simple? —Ed.
Who are we following when we say we are ‘Christians’? The question seems so obvious that most of us think it a silly question even to ask: it’s obviously ‘Jesus’, isn’t it?
But the question is not silly, nor is the answer obvious, because who Jesus is and what he means to us is far from obvious.
Indeed, it is because it is anything but obvious that there have been so many disputes down the centuries among Christians, and there is a whole branch of Christian theology called ‘christology’.
Let us begin by noting that most people like ‘to keep it simple’ — and that means they imagine there should be a simple answer to the question ‘who is Jesus?’ — but the reality is that life is complex, and the more any issue involves human beings, the more complex life becomes. Everyone knows that her/his human relationships are complex — how many of us can say ‘I know myself!’ — so why think that understanding Jesus is easy?
The situation recorded in today’s gospel shows a reaction that must have been widespread: the local people have Jesus in one box in their imaginations: he is the guy from down the road—they know him, his brothers and sisters, and his background.
For anyone who comes from their town they have a box for what they expect for and from that person: fine to get him to do a job for you, fine to go to the well with his sisters, fine to engage with them socially.
That’s all there is to them: another family, just like us, and they should not think of themselves as anything special. So if Jesus stands up and presents himself as a leader, that is just not on!
On the other hand, they have heard him in the synagogue: he comes across as one filled with wisdom, he is a teacher like they have heard, he speaks in a way they have always imagined a prophet would speak. They have another box marked ‘prophet’ and he seems to fit there too! But that box comes with a label: prophets are very distant from everyday life, they are exceptional in every way, they are ‘not like us’.
So when these people find that Jesus ticking both the box marked ‘prophet’ and ticking the box marked ‘ordinary bloke’ / ‘regular guy’ /’one of our own,’ they cannot cope with this complexity. So, since they are more sure that he is the guy down the road, they reject him as a prophet.
Faith is the ability to imagine that God’s goodness is greater and closer than the bits-and-pieces around us and the ups-anddowns of life. In this case, faith was the ability to imagine that God was so close that Jesus was both the guy from down the road and the great prophet and the wise teacher and more besides. But the group could not make that leap of imagination —and Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith.
Would we have been among that group that could not imagine that God’s goodness was that close?
Surely not! After all, we are Christians, who publicly declare our faith in Jesus each week in the creed.
But we have problems of our own in imagining the goodness of God coming close to us in Jesus.
For many people, it is fine to think of Jesus as a wise teacher —a proclaimer of great religious or moral truths — and as such one who should inspire us to high ideals.
This is all true, but is there a label on that box which says: ‘Not needed on a day-to-day basis in life’?