Remaining blind and deaf in Nazareth, Matthew 13:53-58

This week we begin a long narrative section of Matthew’s Gospel (13:53 to 17:27) that is notoriously difficult to analyze in terms of literary structure. A big issue at the beginning and toward the end is this vital question: Who is Jesus? Another major theme is Jesus dealing with his disciples, gradually preparing them for the day he is taken from them. In both matters we follow a crooked road toward the cross.

Matthew 13:53-58

53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. 54 Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”

58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Commentary

Looking back, we find that Jesus had some conflict about his family (12:46-50) right before he began a long series of parables. In that scene, it was apparent that Jesus was alienated from his family during his Galilean ministry around Capernaum. In a way, this passage resumes the narrative right about where we left it, but this time the alienation is between Jesus and his hometown.[1]

Looking forward, commentator Craig Blomberg compares Nazareth’s rejection of Jesus (verses 13:53-58) with the rejection of John the Baptist by Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee (14:1-12). Both rejections were based on a mistaken assessment of who Jesus is.[2] They never did get it straight.

Now and then in studying the Bible, you will come on situations that just make you shake your head in dismay. When the people of Nazareth heard the teaching by Jesus in their synagogue, and possibly saw a healing (verse 54), their reaction was such as to require a Greek verb (ekplesso) meaning “to be filled with amazement to the point of being overwhelmed.”[3]

In the next breath, they start raising questions (verse 54): Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? Like everyone in Galilee, they had heard reports of his miracles and also the charge that he had done them with Satan’s power. Next come three questions about Jesus’ family, each expecting a yes answer (e.g., This is the carpenters son, is it not?). Based on their own words, they decide that Jesus could not possibly be anything special, and they take offense at him (verse 57a).

So, the people of Nazareth cling to the past, and cannot shake giving Jesus an identity from their past: the carpenters son (verse 55). Even his astonishing teaching and a few miracles cannot bring them out of spiritual lethargy. When their Messiah came, they did not receive him.

What does it take, or what did it take, to rouse you from spiritual lethargy?

Among English versions, the NLT does the best job of translating the idiom in verse 57b: “Then Jesus told them, A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his own family.” Keep in mind that a prophet was primarily a teacher and only revealed future events when God decided to make it so. Among many things, Jesus was a prophet.

Jesus does not force anyone to commit to him. In response to their unbelief, Jesus left them with most of the same problems they had when he arrived. Except, they had stumbled on the one issue that, when botched, brings catastrophe: Jesus revealed himself to them, and they rejected him.

Just curious: what kind of welcome would Jesus get at your house?

[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 548.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 226.

[3] BDAG-3, ekplesso, astound, q.v.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!