Himself greater than a prophet (5:12; 11:11-14), Jesus would face rejection greater than the prophets had (23:29-36). Like Jeremiah (Jer 1:1; 11:21-23), Jesus faced the rejection of those closest to him through the ties that usually mattered most in his society-geography and blood (Mt 13:53-58; compare 10:21, 35; 12:46-50).
These accounts of breaking traditional ties frame the kingdom parables (12:46-13:58), forcefully illustrating the message of those parables: the kingdom comes in an obscure way like a mustard seed, and only those with the eyes of faith will recognize it. How could anyone believe that God had stepped into history in the person of a boy who had grown up in their own community? Today we may often have the opposite problem: the familiarity of church tradition too easily obscures the reality that the God we confess as having stepped into history came in the flesh as a little boy in a particular time and place. We may also risk missing the character of Jesus of Nazareth.
Knowing much about Jesus without obeying him leads to taking him for granted. One might cite here the saying that familiarity breeds contempt. The people among whom Jesus had grown up were unprepared to embrace his wisdom and . . . miraculous powers. Those who know most about Jesus without obeying him risk taking him for granted (v. 54; see also Jn 6:42; 7:15). In a town of probably five hundred or fewer inhabitants (Stanton 1993:112), everyone would have thought they knew Jesus already (compare Lk 13:26-28); indeed, Nazareth was a small town from which even Nazarenes would not expect a great prophet (2:23; compare Jn 1:46). They never expected the kingdom to come in a hidden way or to come as close to them as it did (13:31-33); hence those closest to the kingdom did not recognize it, and it passed them by (compare 2:1-12).
Prophets-both Jesus and his true followers-will be rejected. This principle so permeated the early Christian understanding of Jesus' rejection by the leaders of his people that it figures prominently in the Gospels (13:57; Mk 6:4; compare Lk 4:24; Jn 4:44). "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first" (Jn 15:18). Jesus' contemporaries already knew and emphasized that prophets were rejected (as in Mt 23:37; Acts 7:52, 58; CD 7.17-18; 1 Enoch 95:7), but never thought to apply concretely in this case what they professed abstractly.
God allows our unbelief to limit his activity. Mark says that Jesus "could not" do a miracle in Nazareth because of the people's unbelief (Mk 6:5), probably meaning that Jesus refused to act as a mere magician but demanded faith (Goppelt 1981:148). Matthew clarifies the wording: Jesus did not (would not) act because of their unbelief (13:58). Those who are hostile to God's purposes cannot complain because they do not receive the attestations of his power that appear regularly among those who believe him. We should keep in mind, however, that the issue here is the hostility of antibelief, not a young Christian's struggles with doubt (compare Moule 1965:47); sometimes God does sovereignly act on behalf of his own to develop faith, not just to reward it (compare 17:2-7; 28:5-10, 17; Ex 3:2; Judg 6:12-14).
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.