In today’s gospel, on the sabbath day Jesus attended the synagogue and was given the opportunity to speak about the reading from the sacred scrolls. The entire congregation was astonished at his teaching, which prompted questions concerning the source of his doctrine and wisdom and of the power which had been exhibited elsewhere in miracles of healing and exorcism.
Jesus had not been schooled in rabbinic fashion but had been trained as a manual laborer. His immediate family were well known to the villagers, who judged that there was nothing extraordinary about them that would have led them to expect something unusual from Jesus. What was the source of his wisdom, and who had empowered him to speak and act with such authority?
To these questions two answers lie close at hand: the source was God, or it was demonic. Their first impressions of astonishment shaded off to resentment when they recalled Jesus’ earlier vocation and standing in Nazareth. Not knowing the source of his wisdom, they find his office as a teacher offensive. In spite of what they heard and saw they failed to penetrate the veil of ordinariness which characterized this one who had grown up in the village.
Celsus, a pagan philosopher wrote “True Doctrine” (c. 180 CE) as an attack on Christianity. The great offense of this faith was not the claim that a human could be born of a virgin or that a human could be divine; but the fact that it could happen to a member of the lower classes! Class snobbery is the root of Celsus’s objection to Christianity.
Notice that the people neither dispute that Jesus has wisdom or that he performs mighty works; they are just dumbfounded that it comes from a hometown boy like Jesus. More than just a matter of familiarity breeding contempt, this comes from the ancient mentality that geographical and heredity origins determine who a person is and what his capacities will always be. They see Jesus as someone who is not merely exceeding expectations but rather is overreaching. The remark “son of Mary” instead of the proper “son of Joseph” is another indication of what they think they know.
Jesus is dismissed.
Thanks be to God we are not people who have ever let geographical origins and family history determine who a person is and what his or her competences will always be.