When Familiarity Breeds Contempt for Christ

I grew up at the foot of the mountains.

My cousin, who grew up in the south’s heat and often visited when I was a child, made sure that I knew this.  “You have mountains,” he would announce upon coming in the door.  “It’s so different here.  You have seasons.” 

I always appreciated his perspective, because it rendered the familiar unfamiliar.  I lived, I thought with wonder when he said those things, in a special place.  And when I moved away from that area as an adult, on my visits home, I began to see it through a visitor’s eyes: the outline of the mountains against the sky, that creeping fog that settles into the valleys, the highways that wreath snakelike around the terrain.

The unfamiliar entices us. But familiarity, it is often said, breeds contempt.  And so it is with faith as well. 

When Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth in Mark 6, those who hear him in the synagogue are shocked.  This is a local; this is someone they know.  So how on earth is he speaking with such wisdom and knowledge?  Where are the miracles from? 

The turn in verse 3 is particularly brilliant:

“Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are his sisters not here with us?  And they were deeply offended by him…” [AMP]

Don’t we know exactly who this guy is?  And so they became upset.

Isn’t that, perhaps, the opposite of how we think it should go?  Hometown guy makes good!  Nazarene carpenter returns home full of wisdom and miracles to joyful welcome!  Local hero acclaimed by neighbors!  But that’s not it at all.

They’re astonished by what they see revealed in Christ.  But it makes them mad, not proud.

I try not to be too unforgiving of the townspeople.  A few years ago, a repairman came to work on our fridge.  He was a nice enough man; he made a lot of conversation with me as he worked.  Among the topics he chose for the duration of his time in our home was how he thought the education system should be reformed.

Please, I—who make my living in education—thought wearily at the time, please just fix the fridge. 

So I can imagine a little of what it might have been like for the townspeople at first, to have Local Guy walk into the synagogue and start expounding godly truths.  Yet what hangs me up on their response is that they recognized something significant in Jesus.  My fridge repair guy was not speaking with authority on education reform, but Jesus’ words and his deeds lent him credibility. They couldn’t not notice.

And they still wanted none of it.

Their disbelief is so profound that Scripture tells us “Jesus could not do a miracle there at all [because of their unbelief] except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.  He wondered at their unbelief.”

I do appreciate this verse.  Especially the part that tells us Jesus couldn’t work any miracles, except he totally did.  But more affecting is the realization of how profound the antipathy was.  And it really makes me think about what we think we know of God.

1 Corinthians 1:27 reminds us that “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.”  He still does.  And his actions in our lives still often do not look like anything we might expect or plan out ourselves.  He can work in mighty and tremendous ways, in authoritative ways, and we still experience the temptation to pull back because it doesn’t look like what we might expect.

I’m in the middle of one of those such seasons of flux.  Several years ago now, I wrote down a wish in my journal.  I was miserable about something, and I had a particular hope for a way out of an unfortunate work situation.  That way did not materialize, but other blessings came along, and I contented myself.

Then 2023 happened, and the very thing I wish for has now emerged as a possibility in a stunning, roundabout way I absolutely could not have anticipated, dreamed up, or imagined.  Nor would I have thought I’d be prepared for such a possibility after a season of loss—and yet here I sit, looking at the maybe.  I don’t know if God will grant that wish, but this surely feels like a God thing: random, unexpected, oriented through tiny threads years in the making, and all beyond my knowledge.

God doesn’t look how I expect.  He doesn’t operate how I expect.  I develop my understanding of who He is and He confounds it every time with grace.

We cannot fully know God.  We know what is vital and important about God, of course, what God deems deeply relevant to us and how he relates to us.   But we simply cannot know all of God, except that even what we do not know is good.  And so we must prepare ourselves for the inevitable shock of what God might do, how he might appear, how he might engage.  God still has the capacity to shock us—even unsettle us—in the same way he shocked Nazareth.

There is a restaurant I love in our city that changes its menu seasonally.  I will eat absolutely anything there.  I will eat things there that I will not eat anywhere else.  I will eat things there that I normally would otherwise dislike.  Why?

The chef is really good.  Really good.

He is phenomenally skilled.  I, a certified mushroom-hater, came out of his restaurant liking mushrooms.  He makes everything taste amazing.  I don’t know what will be on plate sometimes until I get there, but I know it will be good.

And as believers, that is how we must approach God’s mysteries, how God decides to appear: I don’t know what might happen, but I know it will be good.  I don’t know how God is going to reveal himself in my life or in what way, but I know he is paying attention, he loves me, and I know it will be good.

We have a choice to either accept what we don’t expect or to embrace it.  In Nazareth, rather than rethink their perceptions, they rejected Christ and all he had to offer.  My prayer is that God doesn’t let me grow so entrenched in my assumptions that I do the same.


2 thoughts on “When Familiarity Breeds Contempt for Christ

  1. “God doesn’t look how I expect. He doesn’t operate how I expect. I develop my understanding of who He is and He confounds it every time with grace.” I’m hoping to be confounded soon by an answer for a long held prayer for a loved one.


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