January 30, 2022; Lk 4:21-30; 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In today’ Gospel, Jesus’s visit to his hometown of Nazareth does not end well. The people of Nazareth try to throw him off a cliff! What is it that makes them so angry? I would suggest that we look at the question that they ask, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” Why that question? Some suggest that it is a comment on Jesus’ humble origins: “how can a man with such charisma and eloquence be the son of a carpenter?” But I think that the answer is in another direction. You see at the time of Jesus, small Palestinian towns like Nazareth were self-contained communities. Each of these communities tried to have within them all the necessary trades that were important for community survival. Each community needed a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker. Such trades were passed on from father to son, one generation following the next. Everyone believed this was a good idea because it provided continuity and allowed the various trades to remain active.
Everyone in Nazareth, then, expected Jesus to be a carpenter like his father Joseph. When Jesus began a different ministry of healing, preaching, and announcing the kingdom of God, the infrastructure of Nazareth was threatened. The people would ask themselves, “Who is going to make our furniture? Who is going to build our houses?” The people of Nazareth felt that Jesus had neglected his responsibility to them. They needed a carpenter, but Jesus instead chose a life of service to God.
When we look at the Gospel from this perspective, it becomes a reflection on expectations, a warning to us that what we expect things to be, who we expect people to be, might be considerably different from what God has in mind. We might expect our children to follow in the family business, to go to college and earn a six-figure income. But then our son tells us that he wants to be a forest ranger, a ballet dancer, or a social worker in Latin America. We might expect that our spouse shares our opinions and enjoys what we enjoy. Then we discover that he or she has different political or religious views and enjoys doing things that we find dull and perhaps even foolish. We might expect that our neighbor down the street cares for his yard in the way that we think is appropriate, that the people at work dress in the way that we would like, or that those in our society share the same values that we hold dear. Experience shows us that all too often our expectations are dashed.
Now there is nothing wrong with having expectations. They are an important way to express what we think is important. But today’s Gospel warns us that many of our expectations will not be met and sometimes that is because God has a better idea. Therefore, the challenge for us today is to discern, to ask whether the person who disappoints us is merely going off on some tangent or following God’s will? And if we discover that God has a hand in the thing that disappoints us, then the wise thing to do is to accept it—rather than throwing someone off a cliff.