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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, November 6, 2019  

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 13:53–58

When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place. He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? 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? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.” And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief. (NRSV)

Our brains implement many subconscious tricks and coping mechanisms in attempts to help us make sense of the world and stay safe. Some of those tricks work better than others. One of the more problematic tricks a protective brain can experience is cognitive dissonance, a psychological tension felt when attempting to uphold two “truths” that are contradictory to each other. 

As I read this (admittedly challenging) account in Matthew’s account of the life of Jesus, I get the sense that Jesus’ audience in his hometown synagogue was steeped in cognitive dissonance. On one hand, the people recognized a fellow Jew proclaiming profound teaching and performing miraculous wonders. On the other hand, this recognition clashed with their perception of his social status. How could someone so impressive also have such an unimpressive background? It didn’t make any sense.

The people of Nazareth seem to have had stifling expectations of wealth and vocation, and those limitations of perception prevented them from understanding who Jesus really was. I’m confident the hometown head-scratcher could have flexed his divine power to humble his audience into believing his Kingdom message if he wanted to. Such an aggressive display is usually not Jesus’ style, however. He is not aggressive or excessive in how he exerts his ability or shows his love. Instead, Jesus is most fully appreciated by people with open and humble hearts, who are not concerned with social status or societal structures. The gathered people were not ready for that kind of reception on this particular day, and Jesus would not force it upon them. In my experience, brute strength is rarely the most loving or effective way to solve cognitive dissonance.

Jesus knows better ways to transformations, for those willing to see them.

Loving God, Three in One, please shape in me a humble spirit that recognizes your good works and miraculous power all around me today, especially in the people and places I don’t usually expect it. Thank you for your grace and patience. Amen.

Written by Michael Mirza, Director of Worship

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