Every page in the newspaper this morning invited me to take sides against someone, often by attempting to discredit their point of view.
Limiting someone puts you in a box, too. Just look at what happens to Jesus when he goes back to his hometown. The reputation that precedes his visit says he teaches with authority, like one who knows the text inside and out. It says he sees individuals so clearly that they are healed through their open-hearted encounters with him, and that he loves the unlovely so consistently that a movement of inclusion and justice is coalescing around him. Yet, when he opens up the scripture in his childhood synagogue, the old gang takes offense. They complain, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”
The narrator employs an idiom intended to diminish Jesus’ newfound stature: his purportedly powerful hands are those of a working man, not a scholar, the carpenter-son of a woman named Mary. And as Barbara Brown Taylor points out in a sermon titled, “Sapping God’s Strength,” the only reason to identify someone by his mother in Jesus’s day was to question his legitimacy. Debie Thomas calls it a calculated “use of Jesus’s origin story to shame him into silence.” The people with the oldest ties to Jesus are so closed to the possibility of his growth that they stamp out their own. Nothing of note occurred with them, the scripture says.
A young friend of mine got himself into trouble a few months ago. He did some things and said some things that offended the powers that be, and he was asked to leave his community. I’m not surprised by the ultimate decision—a system’s integrity requires clear boundaries—but Jesus’s experience suggests how likely we are to retreat to our corners and defend them, instead of meeting in the middle and risking an encounter of mutual respect. My friend was dispatched with a letter instead of taking part in a conversation, and I’m sorry about that. Whenever a person is put in a box, each of us is diminished.
I wonder: Is a prophet destined to have no honor in his own country, or can we model something more life-giving for both parties? When we are offended, what if we assume shared hurt in order to find common ground? What if Jesus’s neighbors had admitted to him that something about what he was saying or doing rattled them or threatened them, but then each found a way to grow, together and individually?
God is for us, each of us, full stop. Can we conjure the courage to be for each other, even when it seems like resources are limited, even we’re scared, even when we deeply disagree?