Who does He think He is? – Matthew 13: 54- 58 (Memorial of Saint John Vianney, Priest)
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 on the kingdom with the rejection of Jesus. Perhaps the answer 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 notion of Him which they had cultivated in their head. For them, He was the carpenter’s son whose family members they were familiar with. Familiarity it seems does breed contempt or perhaps in this case, jealousy. Eugene Peterson says, ‘the people think they know who Jesus is; therefore they end up asking disdainfully, “Who does He think He is?”
The twenty first century reader knows the wonder working journey of Jesus. Chapter fourteen will see great miracles; the feeding of the five thousand, His walk on the water and the healing of the Canaanite woman. By the time the news of these miracles reached His home town, Nazara, the people who rejected Him must have certainly wished for a hole in the ground to hide themselves.
Fr Warner D’Souza
Today is the Memorial of St John Marie Vianney. Do say a prayer for me and all Diocesan Clergy
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