“Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (Matthew 13:54b-56)
There are different types of questions. There are questions people ask to lead you somewhere, there are questions people ask to accuse you, there are questions people ask to genuinely find information, and so much more. In this passage at hand, we specifically encounter the difference between rhetorical questions—questions posed to make a point that do not need an answer—and probing questions—questions posed to genuinely seek answers.
The series of questions asked by the locals at the Nazareth synagogue are more like rhetorical questions offered simply to make a point. What is that point? The point is that they already believe they know who Jesus is. Their confidence in their own understanding is a shocking revelation to us as the readers of their lack of understanding. They do not know that what they think they know reveals their utter lack of knowledge.
They have severely misunderstood Jesus. They are missing the point of His teaching, but more importantly they are missing out on Him. Why? Because they are smugly self-assured in what they know, which actually reveals their blind spots and their pride.
Saint Anselm of Canterbury, an 11th century Benedictine monk and theologian, had as his motto: “faith seeking understanding.” This essentially means something like “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God.” This is a good motto for the life of discipleship: “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God.”
Our love of God should lead us toward deeper understanding. Unfortunately, what we see in the synagogue attendees of Nazareth is less like faith seeking understanding and more like pride reinforcing ignorance. And, unfortunately, it seems that is the motto of some Christians today as well.
It is a great grace and wisdom to know what we do know but also what we do not know. It is humility to admit what we do not understand, and then to seek true understanding.
The life of discipleship is a life in pursuit. It is a life of faith seeking understanding, not pride reinforcing ignorance.
“And they took offense at him….And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” (Matthew 13:58)
The sad end to all of this is that the people take offense at Jesus. And so, because of this, we’re told Jesus didn’t do anything miraculous in Nazareth because of their lack of faith.
This tells us that when our pride reinforces our ignorance, it cripples our faith. A crippled faith ends up in offense that limits Jesus. The limitation is not a problem with Jesus but a problem within us. Our closedness to Jesus bring a closedness to His work in us. This is not because He does not want to work in us or because He is not powerful enough to do such work, but because the Son of God will not open a heart that has willfully closed itself to Him.
But when our faith seeks understanding we will be transformed by Him. Our openness to Jesus leads to the openness of His work in us and through us.
There is a vast difference between faith seeking understanding and pride reinforcing ignorance. So what sort of questions are we asking of Jesus?