“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 or label them. We look at another individual not as a person with dignity, but as a two-dimensional caricature to satisfy our own prejudgments and lack of vision. 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 some or many may feel threatened. Thus, not willing to accept our vision, those who are not willing to grow beyond what they have always known.
I read an account from the writer/producer Stirling Silliphant and how one day Bruce Lee challenged him to run five instead of his usual three miles. Into their fourth mile, Stirling said, “if I run any more I’m liable to have a heart attack and die.” [Bruce] said, “Then die.” He was so mad he finished the five miles. Afterward, Stirling approached Bruce and asked him why he said that.
Bruce replied, “Because you might as well be dead. Seriously, if you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it’ll spread over into the rest of your life. It’ll spread into your work, your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level” (p. 23).
Jesus rebukes limiting attitudes and perspectives. His Father has a plan for our lives and so he invites us to open our minds and hearts, to see the potential he sees in us. Jesus, the carpenter, invites us 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, ethnicity, nationality, gender identification, 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 without, as well as those we impose upon ourselves. Cooperating with the Spirit, we will actualize who God calls us to be as well as be encourage to not put labels and limits but to empower others.
Photo accessed from Bruce Lee Podcast Episode #77
Stirling Silliphant story accessed from Bruce Lee: The Art of Expressing the Human Body, compiled and edited by John Little.
Parallel Gospel accounts: Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55, Luke 4:22, and John 6:42