In today’s gospel lesson (Matthew 13:53-58), Jesus goes home to preach and teach in the synagogue in which he grew up. As we read, homecomings aren’t always times to celebrate.
I was asked to return to my childhood home and preach once. It was before I went to seminary, and I had no idea what I was doing. I don’t really remember the sermon itself, but I do remember it wasn’t very good. Afterward, everyone came up and told me they thought it was great. What they really meant was, “I watched you grow up. Now, I heard you preach. That’s remarkable.” They hadn’t actually listened to my sermon. They had simply marveled at the local-boy-makes-sort-of-good. It’s hard for people to get past the things they know.
Jesus returns home after a ministry tour that had included miracles and sermons before great crowds. The multitudes seemed to hang on his every word. And then he goes home and discovers that he’ll always be that cute little carpenter’s son that grew up around the corner on Sycamore Street. It doesn’t really matter how well he preaches. Jesus can’t escape his hometown identity when he’s at home.
I’ve always imagined this story from Jesus’ perspective. In other words, when I read this story, I usually ask myself, “What do the people from my hometown say about me when I return? Do they recognize me? Do they still think of me as the nerdish chubby boy that grew up there?” Instead, I want to try something different. I want to think about this story from the perspective of the crowd.
Whom might I be misunderstanding simply because I grew up with him or her? Whose prophetic word am I unable to hear because I receive it couched exclusively in the terms of a shared childhood? Unfortunately, this episode says a lot more about my inability to leave behind my own limited world view than it says about the world’s inability to understand me. Whom might I be ignoring because I know him too well?
Sometimes it’s a parent, whose wisdom seems locked in my childhood. Sometimes it’s a sibling, who will always be a younger brother—no matter how old we both get. Sometimes it’s a friend, who will always seem obsessed with his date for the Homecoming Dance even though he hasn’t thought of that night in years. Often it’s those people whose names I can’t remember but whose faces I can still see in the halls of our high school. They’re the ones who in my mind will always be the clumsy adolescent they were when we last said goodbye. And it’s not always hometown people. Think of all the other prejudice I allow to color my judgment. How much am I missing?
God often uses people in powerful ways. I often miss that completely because I’m still thinking about the world that revolves around me. But it’s not about me. And it’s not about you. What might God be doing in our lives that we’ve missed completely because we’re stuck in our own past? How might God be asking us to live into the possibility of newness? What does a fresh start mean in God’s kingdom?