Familiarity breeds contempt – Friday, 17th week in ordinary time – Mt 13:54-58

Matthew’s community was no stranger to rejection. The times that they lived in were marred by bitter hostility between the Jews and the followers of Christ who still clung on to their Jewish roots. The rejection by Matthew’s community was sealed with the pronouncement of the ‘ birtkat ha minin’, a Jewish curse on heretics (minim)which also include Jewish Christians.

Turned away from the synagogues they once prayed in, the followers of Christ most certainly found comfort and solace in the narration of Jesus’ own rejection in today’s Gospel. Yet the positioning of the Gospel is itself confusing.

Perhaps what perplexes us is why did Matthew place this Gospel at the end of the parable discourse? It seems a bit odd for the evangelist to end a series of powerful teachings with the rejection of Jesus. Perhaps the fault lies in the fact that the Gospels were originally written in continuous format; there were no chapters and verse. It was Robert Estienne who in 1551 introduced the numbering of verses within each chapter. The rejection of Jesus would read better if it was part of Chapter 14.

Chapters 14 to 17 are an interesting twist that Matthew gives to his Gospel. In placing the rejection of Jesus by His own countrymen in Nazareth, he contrasts it with the next four chapters with the acknowledgment of Jesus by his disciples. While Jesus is rejected by His own He is sought after by everyone else including the Canaanite woman, sworn enemies of the Jews.  It was Matthew’s way of assuring his community that they were not alone in their rejection but they will also find acceptance within the community and acceptance by the world.

Interestingly Jesus is rejected not because He has said anything blasphemous but simply because they were unable to accept the notions of Him that they had in their head. For them he was the carpenter’s son whose family members they knew of. For them, familiarity bred contempt.  Eugene Peterson’s says, ‘the people think they know who Jesus is; therefore they end up asking disdainfully, “Who does he think he is?”

Fr Warner D’Souza

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