The Scandal of the Incarnation

Nazareth, Annunciation ch


The four gospels take a dim view of Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus Christ. Early in his gospel, John says that Philip, one of Jesus’ first disciples, invited Nathaniel to meet “Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip replies. (John 1,46).

The other gospels recall the sad rejection of Jesus by his hometown after his baptism by John the Baptist. According the Matthew, it takes place after Jesus has spoken to a large crowd in parables. Then, he goes to Nazareth and speaks in the synagogue to his own townspeople, who are at first astonished at his wisdom, but then wonder where did “the carpenter’s son” get all this. They know his mother and his family, and they reject him. (Matthew 13,54-58)

Mark’s gospel puts the event after Jesus has raised a little girl from the dead. Going to Nazareth with his disciples, he’s greeted in the synagogue with astonishment because of his wisdom; they’ve heard of his mighty deeds, but then they ask where did this “carpenter” get all of this? He’s “Mary’s son” and they know his family. Jesus “was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6,1-5)

Why do they reject Jesus? The reason seems to be that they know his family and what he’s done for a living, and they can’t believe someone like him could be a messenger of God to them. He’s just a carpenter. What does he know? He came from an ordinary family, some of whom may not have been nice people at all. So they dismiss him.

At Nazareth we see an example of what’s called the “scandal of the incarnation.” People can’t believe that God could come to us as Jesus did.

That scandal still continues. One obvious instance of it is when people claim to be “spiritual, but not religious.” They want God and not the human ways God comes to us. They want God to be in the beauty of a sunset, but not in a church. They want God as they would like him to be, and not in the messiness of humanity.

I think of that line from one of the English poets:

“I saw him in the shining of the stars, I marked him in the flowering of the fields, but in his ways with men, I knew him not.”

The scandal of the Incarnation is always with us.

2 Comments

Filed under Religion

2 responses to “The Scandal of the Incarnation

  1. Natalie

    We can often see our own struggles and hardships in the life of Jesus. Rejected by his town, eventually by his friends. Alone and suffering in the Garden of Gethsemene. This is the experience of every human being. Many reflect on Jesus’ life and find comfort in his rejection, in his suffering. Jesus understands my plight! The son of man. God, the father, made him human to understand our weaknesses, inabilities, our needs. A ‘super hero’ figure could not humble himself to die for us. Jesus did because he knew us all too well.

  2. Gail Smyder

    Father and Natalie, lots to ponder and keep remembering when we come face to face with one another. LOVE the reflections. Keep warm, safe and well.

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