And He Was Amazed

The story of Jesus of Nazareth in Nazareth is layered and maybe a little unsettling, but it’s not wholly unrelatable, especially in a city like Seattle; nearly everyone I know here has a complicated relationship with some place they call “back home.” 

Years ago, I read a book that summed up the Nazarenes’ reaction to that carpenter kid next door returning all wisened up and doing “deeds of power” with three simple words: “familiarity breeds contempt.” That’s probably the only thing I remember about that book because it seemed to unlock the secrets behind all sorts of mysterious behavior around me–the paradox of being human seems to involve being prone to taking the closest people to us the most for granted.

But today, I’m drawn to only one simple word: “amazed” (Mark 6:6), sometimes translated as “wondered,” “marveled” or “surprised.” It’s an evocative word any way you slice it. Why was Jesus amazed? Did he expect more from his community? Did he go through the same kind of trauma that so many of us go through when we feel unseen and unheard by the people we want to love the most?

There’s a commentary on this word that I found online that makes me laugh out loud. How amazing it is for us to see Jesus Christ being baffled and confused by human behavior–here’s how the biblical scholar tries to make sense of Jesus’s amazement: “The word is to be noted as bearing on the reality of our Lord’s human nature, and therefore on the necessary limits within which He, as being truly man, in spirit as well as body, vouchsafed to work. Whatever powers of prevision or insight into the hearts of men might belong to Him, they were not such as to exclude the wonder which men feel at that which comes to them unlooked for.”

And it truly is wondrous, this human capacity to take people for granted, to block out surprise itself from ever teaching us something new about someone we think we’ve known our whole lives. That’s what makes the marvel that Jesus experienced even more amazing: even if he knew exactly what to expect from everyone he met, he allowed himself the opportunity to find wonder–and yes, even joy–in the gap between the self and the other.

Jesus’s amazement changes the whole tone of this story; he instructs the disciples to “shake the dust” not so much as to condemn those who will take them for granted as to encourage them to just keep walking. Our journey as Jesus followers requires that joyful stamina.

Published in The Key, parish newsletter of St. Peter’s Seattle, July 2, 2021

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