MATTHEW 13:53–58; MARK 6:1–6
After he started traveling the countryside, preaching and performing miracles, Jesus returned to speak at his home church. Home to share with those he had known the longest, those who knew him best. But things had certainly changed since he was last home. Jesus was now a traveling teacher and miracle worker.
Let’s find a seat at the back of the room and watch what happens.
Murmurs of conversation faded as Jesus began to speak. His words floated over the audience; they sat transfixed. The words were captivating; the message unlike anything they’d heard. Exciting, insightful, encouraging.
The murmurs started again. Neighbors lean to each other and comment, excited whispers repeating the memorable phrases and ideas. Like a breeze that forces a deep breath, Jesus’s words squeezed into the cracks of hearts and minds.
A surprise was the last thing anyone expected today. But this was great! This was fantastic! This was the kind of message that pushed you out the door and made you want to do something new, different, bigger, better. Who would’ve thought this guy was going to do this? Everyone knew him. He grew up down the road. He helped his dad fix our table. He played with our kids in the back yard.
Wait, this was wrong. It all sounded nice, but the more Jesus said, the more murmurs turned to sarcasm and questions. It was true, the message was brilliant, the delivery engaging. But this, this was Jesus! The downhome perception of him began to reassert itself in the minds of the listeners. Skeptical questions began to roll unfiltered from their lips: “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?”
They were offended. We know Jesus! Who does he think he is?
That they pigeonholed Jesus is not too debatable. There’s one question that seals it if one needs convincing, one question that crystallizes their view: isn’t this the carpenter?
They were indeed astonished at his wisdom; they wondered at the powerful miracles. But when they thought about him and who he was, they kept him in the place they had always known him. He was still Mary’s son, brother to James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon, his sisters likely sitting in that very room. But carpenter?
Significantly, they asked the question in the present tense. They did not ask, “Wasn’t he a carpenter?” They asked, “Isn’t he the carpenter?” His hometown friends were stuck on Jesus as they knew him. He was gone long enough to become someone of significant reputation, but not long enough for people to allow him to become someone other than who they knew.
The question is why. Why pigeonhole Jesus? Why do it to anyone?
A variety of reasons are possible: too many repeated experiences; our own mental ease; our disposition to incredulity. It’s possible that we’re simply jealous. Maybe there are a hundred more reasons we ’t accept them for who they are and don’t allow them to do what they can do.
Amazement turned to ridicule as the people of Nazareth pushed Jesus back into the hole they had for him. Whatever excitement Jesus had at his homecoming quickly became incredulous amazement at the unbelief of his friends and family. That unbelief restricted what Jesus was able to do: “He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”
For Jesus’s hometown friends, they missed out on what Jesus had been doing in the other towns and villages that he visited, the preaching, the teaching, and the miracles. They knew he was saying incredible things in his teaching. They had heard that he was performing miracles of healing. But they did not believe. They did not believe he could be anything other than the Jesus they had known as a carpenter. They didn’t believe that he could be any different than his brothers and sisters, and probably, themselves. And because they couldn’t let him out of that box, they missed what he could have given them.
“He could not do any miracles there.” Pigeonholing Jesus led to unbelief, and unbelief to no miracles.
For those who follow Jesus, this danger is subtle because the holes we put Jesus in may be shallow and difficult to see. It is nevertheless still possible. It’s more likely to take the form of actions we think Jesus does or doesn’t want us to engage in. We’ve read and interpreted the Bible correctly and then applied appropriately. There is no reason to rethink anything. This is a kind of pigeonholing in that we are convinced that we are doing what Jesus wants, when in reality we may be missing it entirely. We think we have the same viewpoint, policy, vote, and activity that Jesus would. We think that what we are doing is THE way to follow Jesus in our current environment. There is no humility that there might be other valid ways of living for Jesus, let alone that we might be wrong. Jesus warned of this possibility and its consequences when he said that those who neglected “the least of these” were really neglecting him.
For those who don’t call themselves followers of Jesus, the pigeonholes are likely more obvious: He was a good man, but not God; miracles are not possible so the Bible (and everything in it) is not true; Jesus is just one way among many; following Jesus doesn’t really seem to make a difference. These holes are not based on any experiences with Jesus. Yet we formulate them in our minds and Jesus is placed firmly and securely at the bottom.
Pigeonholing Jesus doesn’t take away his power. Their unbelief didn’t make him any less the Messiah, so why not heal people and restore sight to the blind? Because he never got the opportunity. He wasn’t allowed to perform any miracles. The blind, deaf, dumb, sick, paralyzed, and possessed were not brought to him in his hometown as they were in other places. The throngs of people following him through the countryside were replaced with an eye roll and a closed door. The life and strength he could have given remained unfulfilled desires. Pigeonholed unbelief closes the door on what Jesus wants to and can do. It closes us off to Jesus.