The proverbial offspring of familiarity.
It is the sense that we know something so well that we know it completely. Nothing mysterious, surprising or arousing is left to discover.
That which is held in contempt is not despised because it is evil, it is devalued because it is common. Sometimes we are too close to something or too well-acquainted with someone to really see the worth that is inherently there.
This is the missing-forest-for-trees mindset. It is simply knowing too much for our own good.
- What should inspire a gasp merely causes a yawn.
- What should create amazement simply produces apathy.
- What should take our breath away only results in a bored sigh.
Familiarity creates a sense that what is known about a thing or person is all that there is to them. With that perspective as a starting point, the scope of what can be missed–what is missed–is broad.
Even Jesus fell victim to the Gulliver-confining restraints of familiarity.
From the rear-view mirror vantage point we enjoy, it is nearly impossible to comprehend that the people with whom Jesus grew up missed the import and impact of this man who bent history in half.
Those who grew up down the block, played in the dirt streets or sat on a chair He built in His dad’s shop were convinced they knew all there was to know about the Nazarene. He was one of them. Just Mary and Joe’s kid.
So when as a burgeoning Rabbi He came back to town to hold a class in the synagogue, they were actually caught off guard by how erudite and articulate He was. Words with an inexplicable authority that seemed to come from somewhere else streamed effortlessly from the same guy who used to sling hammers and stir mortar in the neighborhood Fixit shop.
If at first they were taken aback and shocked, it didn’t take long for familiarity to start breeding its ugly child. A deep, seething contempt rose in the hearts of His neighbors as they attempted to put Jesus back in the box of their finite understanding.
“We have known Him since we were kids. Who does He think He is!?”
They thought what they knew of Him was all there was to Him. They were too close to Him to see who He actually was.
And the sad commentary that followed was: “He didn’t do many miracles there because of their hostile indifference.” (Matthew 13:58, MSG)
Jesus couldn’t be all He really was because they wouldn’t believe He was all that!
Here was the limitless One limited by little thinkers. He wasn’t able to answer their deepest questions because they thought they knew it all. He couldn’t meet their critical needs because of their critical spirits.
It was among those who thought they knew Him best that He could do the least.
I am wary that this part of the Gospel narrative is recalled in the story of Jesus as a warning to all the church-going, Bible-reading, hymn-singing, sin-avoiding people like me who have glutted themselves on knowing the most about Him.
- Are we in danger of constraining the reach of the One who came to seek and save the least, last and lost?
- Do we cease believing for the unimaginable because we are convinced we have figured out how the unfathomable works?
- Will we mark through items on the list of impossibles simply because we have already decided what He will and will not do?
Have we built a cage for the Lion of Judah?
Do we prevent Him from being the Center because we have previously determined His circumference?
Make no mistake. Jesus will be himself.
He will not be limited, confined, restrained or tamed. He refuses to settle down and act appropriately so that He fits neatly into our preconceived, well-defined theological notions of Him. He honestly doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about our comfort zones.
You see, Jesus is far more than we can comprehend and far better than we ever dream.
When allowed to be Himself, He will invade the darkest places with the bright light of hope. He will heal the most fractured lives with intimate comfort and vulnerable love. He will transform seemingly unalterable outcomes and unchangeable circumstances simply by showing up.
If we try to box Him in, He will do as He did in His hometown…move on to people who are desperate enough, needy enough and crazy enough to let Him be all that He is. And in those places, among those people He will do stuff that boggles the mind and dazzles the heart.
He will be nothing less than who He really is. Whether we like it or not.
The greatest danger to Jesus followers is the creeping familiarity that begins to contain Him within our margins instead of allowing Him to color outside the lines.
Sometimes, we may just know too much for our own good.
Reflections after reading Matthew 13:53-58, MSG