It’s hard to be the “hometown boy.” It’s tough to be the person that everyone assumes they know really well because what people think they know about you can, at times, put some severe limitations on what they believe they can know about you.
Jesus knew this pretty well.
In Luke 4, Jesus makes his return to his hometown of Nazareth, fresh off having caused no small miracle-driven uproar in Capernaum. This should be a glorious homecoming, and indeed it does begin with some fanfare as those whom Jesus grew up among have no doubt heard chatter about the things their hometown hero has done in neighboring communities.
But, at a certain point things go south pretty quick. Jesus senses the proverbial “familiarity” that breeds “contempt,” and begins calling it out by offering his oft-quoted pronouncement about how prophets don’t typically do well on their home turf; people like to think they’ve got others, especially those close to them, ‘figured out,’ so when the crowd who’d come to see a “hometown boy makes good” story get something other, something much harder to swallow from Jesus, things quickly run right off the cliff (pun intended).
It’s not uncommon for those of us today, those of us who have believed Jesus is exactly who he claimed to be, to read such stories and puzzle as to how people missed the signs. It is easy to be utterly baffled by the actions of Jesus’ community or to even look at them with contempt.
Yeah, that’s easy. What’s hard is realizing that we often live out the same script. Especially for those of us who’ve grown up in church culture or walked with Jesus for some time, it’s hard sometimes to see in ourselves that we assume ourselves so familiar with Christ that we no longer have space in our hearts for him to speak a prophetic word, to call us out, to shock us, to expose the fact that we aren’t as tuned into his mission (outlined via his remix of the prophet Isaiah early in Luke 4) as we might have always believed we were.
What does it look like for us to recover that space? What might it look like if we didn’t hem Jesus in under the strictures of our own limiting expectations, treating him as the “hometown boy” with whom we’re so familiar that anything shocking or challenging he might offer us is met with (at best) quick dismissal, dubious indifference, or (at worst) violent rejection akin to the first annual Nazarite Prophet-Tossing competition we nearly see in Luke 4?
For the record, it does no good to try and reject the challenging words of Jesus. If Luke 4 is any indication, he’ll simply go on about his mission, leaving us cliffside to work out our indignation.
Praying we’d let the prophet be prophet, that we’d have space in our hearts to accept Jesus’ words even when, as in John 6, they are “hard teachings.” For surely Peter was right that it is only Jesus who has the “words of life.”