“Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter’s son?” (Mt 13:54-55).
Many people wonder what Jesus did from the age of twelve until he began his ministry around the age of thirty. Today’s reading gives us some insight into that question. Most likely, Jesus did nothing extraordinary, he was just as ordinary as any other first century Palestinian Jew living in the small town of Nazareth, with a population of about 250 to 500 people.
Jesus most likely worked as a carpenter. This was rough, menial work, and as a day laborer, a position that was looked down upon. We can even see evidence of this in the Gospel accounts. Mark describes Jesus as the carpenter, the son of Mary, Matthew in today’s account portrays Jesus as the carpenter’s son, and Luke and John just refer to Jesus as Joseph’s son, leaving out any reference to carpenter altogether. Most scripture scholars believe Mark was written first, so we can see a progression in the biblical tradition moving quickly away from identifying Jesus as a carpenter.
Jesus’ return to his hometown and his teaching was first met with wonder. The question arose, “Where did he get such wisdom and how did he work such mighty deeds?” But wonder soon turned to judgment. Who is he? Isn’t he just the carpenter of Nazareth, no better than any of us. In effect, “Who does he think he is?” Not only does this show that Jesus probably lived a very simple peasant life, but that Jesus’ social status was set in stone.
The people’s hearts and minds were closed to Jesus. THEY KNEW who he was and there was no way someone like him could do what they had heard, so they “took offense at him… And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith” (Mt 13:57-58).
How many times have we judged someone? Have we said to ourselves, “I know who he or she is.” We box them in, not as they are, but as WE see them, as we define them. We look at another individual not as a person with dignity, but as a two-dimensional caricature to satisfy our own prejudgments. We also do this to ourselves by limiting our potential when we say we can’t do this or that.
Maybe we have had a similar experience as Jesus did in returning to his hometown, in that we have sought or are seeking to move beyond our particular social status, or follow a dream or career out of the norm of familial or community expectations. No matter our age, through no fault of our own, by pursuing this path we threaten those who are not willing to accept our vision, those who are not willing to grow beyond what they have always known.
Jesus rebukes limiting perspectives. His Father has a plan for our lives and so he invites us to open our minds and hearts, to rest in the depths of our soul where we can touch the love and power of the Holy Spirit, repent from limiting ourselves and others through our judgmental and prejudicial dispositions, so to be healed from the finite limitations of our brokenness and sin. We need to resist the temptation to limit Jesus, others, and ourselves.
May we instead accept the invitation of our loving God and Father to embrace the infinite possibilities that will arise when we participate in his Life and Love. This invitation is for each and every one of us, no matter our race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, religious, political, economic, social, immigrant, or migrant status. The Holy Spirit seeks to free us from the shackles that bind us, the limitations imposed upon us, and those we impose on ourselves and others.
Let us follow Jesus the carpenter today, for he knows our potential, and seeks to impart upon us his love and encouragement, so that we will actualize the vision of who he calls us to be. In this way, we will better be able to empower others in our realm of influence to do the same.
Picture credit: Darrel Tank/GoodSalt.com used with permission
Parallel Gospel accounts: Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55, Luke 4:22, and John 6:42