The hometown of Jesus was a small village tucked between the hills of the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean, located away from the main centers of the population. One of the disciples describes the first time Jesus visited his hometown after he had become a public figure. His public ministry had, up until then, been based largely in Capernaum.
The townspeople had undoubtedly heard stories. Whispers of miracles and strange events were being reported from neighboring cities. His teaching was being called different, holding a different sort of authority among rabbis. I imagine the people of his hometown took a proud interest in all of the murmuring, anxious to see why everyone was talking about their Jesus, anxious to claim him as their own. Now he was coming back home and they were excited about it. Invitations to teach in the synagogue were usually extended to distinguished visitors; he was, no doubt, in many eyes, the local boy done good, and now they would see for themselves.
According to Mark they were not disappointed. In fact, he reports, “they were astounded.”(1) Making reference to the wisdom they heard and power they beheld, they clearly took notice that he was a man out of the ordinary. And yet, they couldn’t take the man at face value, for it was not just any man; it was Jesus. They could not get past the fact that this seeming authority in front of them was Mary’s son, the carpenter, the boy next door. And so Mark notes, they “took offense” at him, stumbling over the commonality of the extraordinary one before them, the insider they would not see released.(2)
During his tenure as a professor at Magdalen College in Oxford, C.S. Lewis delivered a memorial oration to the students of King’s College, the University of London. It was titled, “The Inner Ring.” Addressing his young audience as “the middle-aged moralist,” Lewis warned: “Of all passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.”(3)
Lewis spoke of the natural desire to find ourselves a part of the inner circles that exist endlessly and tauntingly throughout life. He cautioned about the consuming ambition to be an insider, and not an outsider, though the lines we chase are invisible, and the circle is never as charming from within as it looks from without. Like the taunting mirage the weary traveler chases through the desert, the quest for the Inner Ring will break your heart unless you break it, he insisted. For “it is the mark of a very perverse desire that seeks what can not be had.”(4)
Yet it is no doubt a desire that touches us all. There are those we will never truly see because they are within our circles. And there are those we will never see because they are without. Our invisible lines will continue to exclude the majority, and our pursuit of the inside will keep us in confined by our own impervious parameters of sight. Unless we allow them to be broken.
The kinfolk of Jesus chose to belittle the depth of his teaching, the compassion of his hands, and the significance of his power because they could not see past the circles from which they were certain he was excluded. Throughout his testimony, Mark gives witness to the close ties between faith and healing, expectation and eyesight. This hometown crowd could not see Jesus for who he was because they were blinded by lines that told them what he could not be. “Isn’t this Mary’s son?” they scoffed in fear and disgust. Excluding mention of Joseph, their words were intended to belittle Jesus and his origins, to put him on the wrong side of the line with one who was sexually suspect.
And yet ironically, in pointing to Mary, they unwittingly point to the miracle of the virgin birth, the first evidence of Christ’s breaking of an inner ring. Where his hometown saw scandal and commonality, where we see circles that exclude, Jesus breaks the lines of separation, extraordinarily offering the world an invitation into the very presence of Father, Son, and Spirit.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Mark 6:2.
(2) Mark 6:3.
(3) The Weight of Glory (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1980), 154.
(4) Ibid., 154.