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Thought from Fr. Colm - 7th July 2024

Following a Hometown Boy: Reflections on Mark 6: 1-6, Alyce McKenzie


I picture Jesus' hometown family and friends squirming in their synagogue seats and

craning their necks to see if he's coming up the centre aisle as they wait for his arrival

that day. The hometown boy is coming to bring the morning message. He's bringing

his entourage with him. As his family and former neighbours sit waiting, I bet they

were preparing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they were saying to

each other, "Even if he's not that good a speaker, we need to encourage him, because

he's just getting started." His home townies don't know who they're waiting for. They

think they're waiting for the boy who knows how to make the best shelves in town.

They think they're waiting for the familiar sibling of James, Joset, Judas, Simon, and

his sisters (unnamed!). They think they're waiting for the obedient son of Mary.

They're prepared to excuse the shortcomings of someone safe and familiar who is

from where they live and known by all of them.


In C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan, the Lion King of Narnia, represents a Christ

figure. Lucy, conversing with Mr. Beaver, is curious about Aslan. She has never seen

him but has heard that he is "on the move," and anticipates meeting him. "Is he safe?"

she asks. "Who said anything about being safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Course he's not

safe, but he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

Jesus is "on the move." And his hometown folks can't wait to see him. They want him

to be both safe and good for their economy. The town sign maker is yawning;

stayed up late last night finishing the banner that is now draped across the entry gate

to town that says "Welcome to Nazareth, home of Jesus."

Now here he is striding down the aisle of the synagogue.


Mark, with his usual taciturnity, simply tells us that "he began to teach." Luke 4:16-

30 gives us a much fuller account of what he said, why they responded as they did,

and what they then tried to do. Luke has him reading from Isaiah 61:1-2, strongly

implying a Messianic identity, and then offering a litany of non-Jews who had more

faith than his hometown congregation. No surprise that this lovely homecoming

ends not with a strawberry festival in the grove, but with a mass attempt to hurl the

hometown boy off a cliff.

His hometown folks are, I would suspect, be willing to give him the benefit of the

doubt as long as he doesn't say anything unexpected or challenging. They would

not be inclined to doubt the source of his teachings if he had not made them feel

uncomfortable.


Their response to whatever it was he said reflects a combination of belief and

incredulity. They seem to believe that what he said was of divine origin ("What is

this wisdom that has been given to him?"), yet they are unable to believe that such a

great gift would be given to someone they know and whose family they know.

Their response to whatever it was he said reflects a combination of belief and

incredulity. They seem to believe that what he said was of divine origin ("What is

this wisdom that has been given to him?"), yet they are unable to believe that such a

great gift would be given to someone they know and whose family they know.

Here are the kinds of thoughts that may have been going through their minds.


1. How dare he have something we don't?

2. How could something this powerful have grown up in our midst and we not

know about it?

3. How dare God send such astounding teachings and do such deeds of power

this close to home through someone we know?


All these guesses have a common focus on themselves. When we are focused on

ourselves, on maintaining our superiority and control over our surroundings and

others, we are not open to the truth God seeks to speak to us, sometimes through

people we know and in places we thought we knew like the back of our hand.

I guess there is a reason that prophets are never honoured in their hometown and

among their own kin and in their own houses.

I like to think that if I had been one of Jesus' hometown folks, I would have heard

him gladly and changed my ways in any way he thought I should. But I guess I'll

never know what I would have done then. The question is, what am I going to do

now?


Alyce McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le van Professor of Preaching of

Theology, Southern Methodist University

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