Familiarity Breeds Contempt
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
While I’m not a big fan of tabloids, I do like to read biographies and watch biographical documentaries about my favorite athletes and musicians. These accounts inevitably begin with the customary interviews with hometown family and friends concerning what this person was like when they were young, how they developed, what kinds of signs there were that this person had the talent and ambition that would make them a world-famous success story. “There was always something special about them,” the friend says. “We knew all along that they would go places.”
Jesus returned to Nazareth, and He brought His disciples with Him. He came back to where He had grown up in the house of Joseph, back to His home congregation on the Sabbath. And naturally, the rabbi son of the congregation would be invited to teach. That was the custom in the synagogue, much like when a seminarian or pastor comes back to his home church.
We don’t know what Jesus preached on that day. It was probably from the writings of Moses or the prophets. And if it was like His other preaching in the synagogue, it probably was about how Jesus was the fulfillment of Moses and the prophets, and how His appearing signaled the moment of the world’s salvation.
But the congregation didn’t like what Jesus said to them. Questions filled their minds and distracted their thoughts as they listened to Jesus. “From where did He get all this? This wisdom, these miracles: where did all this come from? Isn’t this Mary’s boy, the carpenter? Didn’t we watch Him in His workshop? He grew up here. He played with us.” The more questions they asked, the more offended they became. This was no triumphant homecoming.
It wasn’t so much the power or divinity of Jesus that caused the trouble in this case. What offended the people was Jesus’ very humanity—His ordinary, earthly flesh and blood humanity. Jesus was one of them—ordinary, plain people, not the sort that claimed to be God come to earth or the Messiah, come to save the world. After all, Jesus put His robe on one sleeve at a time, just like everyone else. Just who did He think He was? God? The hometown crowd stumbled. The synagogue was scandalized.
The synagogue still stumbles today. The Jewish people today still refuse to believe that this humble carpenter of Nazareth is the promised Messiah, God’s anointed. They stumble over Jesus’ humanity, His humility, His suffering and death, His failure to restore Israel, His failure to establish a kingdom of this world. Some say nice things about Him, that He is a great teacher and a prophet. But the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God? No way. Jesus was too human and weak to be called those things.
The world stumbles over the humanity of Jesus, as well. It’s celebrated openly during Christmas. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” We even sing about it: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’incarnate deity.” But if you were to push the average Christmas shopper about just who Jesus is, the answer could be anything: “myth” or “legend”, to “prophet” or “holy man”. But is He the God who came down in human flesh to take up our sin and give His life for the world?
We stumble too. Like the people of the Nazareth synagogue, we ought to know better. Yet still we trip over Jesus’ humanity and familiarity. We stumble when we see our Baptism as something from a long time ago. We stumble when we despise preaching and the Word of God by relying on our own opinions. We stumble when we reject individual confession and absolution as something too Roman or believe that Jesus has no desire to hear the sins that trouble us. We stumble when we see the Lord’s Supper as something that can become too familiar and so only offer it once or twice each month instead of every time we gather to hear the Word. Trying to be Christian without these means of grace is the same as trying to be a Christian without Christ. But to us, these things seem all too familiar; we don’t like it when God deals with us in ordinary ways.
“Familiarity breeds contempt,” we say. Jesus was so familiar to the people of Nazareth that they found it hard to believe what He had to say. Saint John tells us, “He came into His own, and His own received Him not.” Water and words, bread and wine—these things are familiar, ordinary, part of our daily lives. It’s so easy to miss what Jesus says and does through them. That is the scandal of familiarity. The things we are most familiar with are the things we value least. God reached down to touch us through the familiar and the ordinary in Jesus Christ. So familiar are these things that His work is despised and dishonored, so ordinary that we are prone to miss it.
Saving faith, a living trust in Jesus Christ to rescue us from sin and death, doesn’t come from miracles. It comes from hearing the Word of Christ. “Faith comes by hearing.” It isn’t a matter of believing more so that Jesus can do more. It’s trusting Jesus, even when there are no miracles, when He is despised and rejected, powerless, dead on the cross. Faith born of miracles needs signs and wonders to feed it. Faith born of gimmicks and programs needs gimmicks and programs to sustain it. Faith born of Christ needs nothing but Christ!
There were a few in Nazareth who believed in Jesus, a handful who clung to His words and were not scandalized by His familiarity. Jesus laid His hands on them and healed them. Jesus always has a few believers wherever He goes. Wherever His Gospel is preached, wherever His sacraments are being given out, there will always be believers. And He reaches out His hand and touches them, and He heals them.
Jesus hands are the good news, both for the few in Nazareth and for us here today. They are familiar hands, but they are precious in their power. They are hands that know the feel of grain and water. They are hands that know sweat and blood. They are God’s hands, reaching down to us. They are hands pierced for our healing by the nail to the wood of the cross. His hands are the hands of your Savior.
The hands of the crucified carpenter from Nazareth still reach down to us. They reached down to you and washed you clean and made you His own. They reach down to you in forgiveness and blessing. They reach down to feed you with His very own body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Trust these familiar hands, and flee from those who would have you trust anyone else. You don’t need novelty; all you need is the Savior who continually makes Himself familiar to you. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.