Is “Familiarity breeds Contempt” true?

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


As the LORD spoke to me, the spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard the one who was speaking say to me: Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day. Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you. But you shall say to them: Thus says the Lord GOD! And whether they heed or resist—for they are a rebellious house— they shall know that a prophet has been among them.


Brothers and sisters: That I, Paul, might not become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

MARK 6:1-6

Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples. When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

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!

Posted: July 4, 2021

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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