We know who you are — Matthew 13:53–58

The withdrawal of the King — part 1

40 blogs of Lent — day 2

This is a new section of Matthew’s gospel, each section except the last one contains a narative sevtion followed by a teaching section and starts with the words “when Jesus had finished this” or something very similar. This is the fourth of six sections. See yesterday’s blog post for more detais, there is a navigation bar at the bottom of this post, but not the one that says Matthew’s Gospel.

In the previous narrative section Jesus started to get a bit of opposition to his ministry, now it’s about to turn nasty.

The Pharisees and Sadducees come to tempt Jesus
Public Domain

53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his home town he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offence at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his home town and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

Matthew 13:53-58

Is not this the carpenter’s son? is an insult. The people mention the names of Jesus’ mother and male siblings, that the sisters go unnamed shows the patriarchy of society at that time. So why is Joseph not mentioned by the people of Nazareth? Even if we assume that Joseph was dead by this time, as church tradition does, thet would have known of a skilled worker like Joseph in their midst. It is not a mistake by Matthew either. Matthew spent a lot of the early chapters of his story telling of Jesus’ birth from Joseph’s viewpoint. The two are linked, the people of Nazareth would have heard the rumours about Jesus’ birth. The question Is not this the carpenter’s son? is rhetotrical. What they are pointing to is that Joseph was not Jesu’ father, even though he brought him up, and the people knew that. Is not this the carpenter’s son? is saying. “We know who you are, you are the bastard child the carpenter brought up.

And they took offence at him. This is understatement, this is complete rejection. In Luke’s version of the story of Jesus coming to his home town, which comes chronologically at a different place in the story, goes a lot further than this, the people took more than offence, they try to kill Jesus, taking him out to stone him but Jesus just walks through the crowd.

Matthew however uses this as a passage to link between the last narrative section, which ended with Jesus saying “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” The two narrative sections are linked, nothing in Matthew’s Gospel is there by chance. But as well as linking passages, Jesus is asking his readers a question, “who am I?” How we respond to Jesus depends on who we think he is. The people of Nazareth got it wrong, they could not see past their prejudice. Seeing Jesus as merely the son of Mary with a dubious beginning prevented them seeing Jesus for who he was. It will take until chapter 17 for Matthew to say who Jesus is, but wanting the reader to start working this out starts here.


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