Is “Familiarity breeds Contempt” true?

by May Tam
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time



MARK 6:1-6

All of the readings on this Sunday speak of the difficulties encountered in the work of salvation. The prophet Ezekiel was sent to the rebellious house of Israel; St Paul was responding to a crisis that threatened his ministry as an apostle and Jesus, even with His fame spreading throughout Galilee, received rejection from His hometown and His own kin (rf Ez 2:5; 2 Cor 12:11-13; Mk 1:28). It seems that the question of unbelief is not monopolized by the contemporary secular culture. Today's Gospel illustrates, even in the very presence of God Himself, Jesus “was amazed at their unbelief” (Mk 6:6).

We have seen earlier people would come to Jesus as far as Judea, Idumea and other pagan districts. Surprisingly, the response to His homecoming is uneventfully disappointing (rf Mk 3:8). Luke also recounts Jesus' another visit to Nazareth with a similar response (rf Lk 4:16-24). No doubt, while many were impressed by Jesus' teachings, why then would His townspeople “take offense” against Him? (rf Mk 6:3; Lk 4:22; Mt 13:54)

First of all, Jesus is not paying a personal visit to His family in Nazareth. He comes as a rabbi, accompanied by His disciples, “And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue” (Mk 6:2). This is where human psychology comes in — “familiarity breeds contempt”. As a small town, people of Nazareth knew Jesus and His family well. They knew Him as a carpenter, the son of a carpenter, the son of Mary as well as His brothers and sisters (even His own family seems not supportive) (rf Mk 3:21; 6:2-3; Mt 13:55). Familiarity makes them disrespect Jesus, a commoner who has lived among them not too long ago. Disrespect leads to contempt and contempt results in rejection even in the face of evidence (rf Mk 6:2-3).

Are we also the people from Jesus' native town, presuming things we think we know well? Does familiarity make us stereotype those around us, especially those who are close to us? Does familiarity hinder us to see clearly because we do not want to accept the truth? Perhaps the most detrimental of letting familiarity breeds in us is to disregard those who teach the Word of God (I know him/her, not impressive), or the Word itself (I have heard it many times already, not significant).

From the Gospel, we know that Jesus never returns to Nazareth again. Because of familiarity, the townspeople deprive themselves of blessings they would otherwise receive. Because of contempt, they block the channel of grace and mercy that Jesus is bringing to them, “He could do no mighty work there” (rf Mk 6:5). Because of unbelief, they miss the opportunity of hearing the Word of God and hence their salvation (Jesus diverts His ministry to elsewhere rf Mk 6:6).

My dear friends, may we not let this similar tragedy befall us. Let any familiarity in us with others generate more appreciation and respect instead of contempt. Let our familiarity with God's message and His messengers produce more reverence and gratitude instead of indifference. And let familiarity with Jesus' words breeds more faith and love in us so that we can retain Him in His hometown — our hearts!