The bookends on Jesus’s visit to his hometown were amazement. The people were amazed at his teaching. Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. This would not end well. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? That is what Nathaniel said when the subject of Jesus was first broached with him. Jesus did, but it would seem that Nathaniel’s words were prescient in terms of the larger group of Nazarenes.
1 He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching. (Mark 6:1-6–ESV)
Jesus went home
Nazareth was the town where Jesus had lived and become a carpenter. He was known among those people, but his ministry had taken him to new places. His ministry had given him a new reputation. Among and about him now was an entourage of devotees. This group was with him when walked up the road and back onto the streets of his boyhood.
Amazement hits home – The “Nazareth moment”
We are not told when he arrived in Nazareth, but it was not the Sabbath. No insights were given of the days leading up to that Sabbath, but he went about his regular way when that day came. He went to the synagogue and was given the opportunity to teach.
When Jesus taught people perked up. That had happened since the earliest days of Jesus’ ministry as his teaching was not idle. What Jesus unfolded from the scrolls did not pass around the synagogue evoking pleasurable sensations. The teaching did not tickle the ears. The words of repentance and belief caught and convicted. Biases were unwrapped. Comfort zones were tweaked. Conviction hit and the people were amazed.
From amazement to sin
Amazement was appropriate. They were right in their “wow!” but wrong in their reaction. The Nazarenes acknowledged his unique ability, his unique insights and that these things were given to Jesus. Those locals, though, ran off the track when they became jealous.
Their thoughts went back to the 30 years he had lived there. He was the town carpenter. His mom was still there as were the brothers, sisters and by now families of these. The problem was that pedigree was just that. The pedigree was insufficient for the wisdom and miraculous ability. Their own prejudices prevented their accepting what God had done, and they sinned. They took offense at him.
Jesus observes and is amazed
Jesus acknowledged his status as a prophet and his homecoming. The words of Mark were a spiral of denial. The prophet’s hometown will not welcome him nor will his relatives nor his family. Mark spiraled down from the widest and least connected to the narrowest and presumably most intimate. Neither the associations nor his acquaintances, neither the wider group of his relatives nor his own household embraced his claims and demonstrations. A war hero is welcomed with parades, but jealousy mars a prophet’s return.
(Almost) all lost – The poverty of unbelief
Jesus, it is said, could do very little in the way of miracles in as a result of this unbelief. The people had seen, had had a “Nazareth moment” of recognizing Jesus for who he was but rather than accept the implications they discarded him. So much could have been done if they had not stomped off into the marsh of unbelief.
Almost all lost, but not all. Hurray! The dwindling of Jesus’ impact did not reach all the way to zero. A few people were healed. Even in Nazareth some were ready with faith. Only shepherds, Simeon and Anna were ready for the infant Jesus in his home country. Only a few were ready for man Jesus in his hometown, but that remnant was there. The lack of faith poisoned the environment and little of God’s desire, his potential, his interest grew up in that place, but some did.
DP1: Natural order of things may not always be permanent
In Mark 6 we see the Nazarenes presented with Jesus who was different than they liked. They remembered a natural order (he was the carpenter and his family was there), but probably had smoldering ideas of it being upended (he had developed a reputation). When Christ returned those smoldering ideas became bad and briskly burning fires. His presence and his preaching exposed a clear inversion of things. They were presented poignantly with the realities of Jesus. “Ready or not here I come,” we say when we play hide-and-seek. Their ready-or-not moment happened.
This type of thing is not unheard of. Times come when the subordinate becomes the ordinate. Think of this in terms of the relationship between Mary and Jesus. Inversions can be a disgrace when slaves rule over princes, but it is an opportunity when orchestrated by God’s will and his power.
Here are some other examples:
- Joseph came to rule over his brother and his parents
- King Saul’s son Jonathan and David who became God’s anointed
- John the Baptist and Jesus
- Parable of the prodigal son, may have some similarity
DP: We get offended when the order is upended
The “ready or not here I come,” happened for Nazareth when Jesus returned with his disciples. The Nazarenes had to respond and did so. Their reaction was strong and it was not good. Their response was offense and God’s good for them shriveled. The people of Capernaum and the Pharisees had done this and now his hometown, his relatives and his family did this.
These times are like forks in the road, and let me take you to one of my forks. It is a multi-year fork and deals with my reaction to what I see in our world and how I assign blame to God. The case of Andrea Yates who drowned her five young children in their bathtub in 2001 makes me sad for the children’s last moments.
A ladder to being offended
Up to the point of that sadness I do not cross any spiritual lines, but my problem begins when I start wandering up the ladder. The next step is being sad that there is suffering in the world. That step is not ungodly, rebellious or spiritually harmful. It has not grown to sin. The next step toys with sin. My heart says, “God, this world is not worth it.” Sin is thoroughly exposed in my heart though when this step goes all the way saying, “God you made a mistake.” This for me is not a thing said as much as a thing felt. In a manner this is being offended at God.
Nothing changes about God when I begin to live in the place of these thoughts. My opinion is irrelevant. The world is still here. Suffering is still here, but God is still real and he still did all this. It takes prayer and years for these things to be detangled.
PA2: “Help me overcome my unbelief!”
This phrase is from Mark 9:24 where Jesus was dealing with a child possessed by Satan. The disciples had been unable to cast out this devil and the father in his desperation expressed doubt that Jesus could either. Jesus drew the conversation to the point where doubt and faith stood against one another. Then the man realizing his own weakness asked for help in dealing with the his own doubt.
It is crucial that we draw together the situation of Jesus at Nazareth and our own Nazareth moments. We must recognize the risk that we probably will take offense at some of God’s revelations. We all come to a point where we see God as God, and there we face a fork in the road. What will we do with it? We probably will know right from wrong, but likely will find wrong to be terribly strong. I had thought to make the practical application “Don’t be offended when the order is upended.” That, though, is the point of realization not the point of decision. Sometimes telling a person not to be offended is like telling a person not to sink when trying to walk on water. We do not need jaunty ideas we just need strength. I have needed strength and it has taken years for some of these things to dwindle. Remember Andrea Yates drowned her children 15 years ago (I am writing this in 2016) and I am only getting to the point of saying, “Ok, God, you do good things. Help me overcome my sense that this world was not worth it.”
I have no idea what you are bitten with, what you chafe at, how you are mad at God. Don’t try to get out of your anger by yourself. Ask God to help you overcome these things. It works…but it might take a while.
DP: God builds big things out of little things
Carpenter’s were not at the top of the socioeconomic ladder in Nazareth. Jewish minds, and ours most likely, figure that good things come to those who deserve it. Part of the deserving devolves from parents and community prowess. The compatriots of Jesus thought the merits of Jesus were insufficient. God, though, takes small beginnings and makes them into great enterprises. Little is much when God is in it goes the song3. The parable of the mustard seed4 emphasizes this approach as well.
Notwithstanding the humble origin of Jesus what God did with him and through him spoke very loudly. God did a big thing out of Jesus’ seemingly slow start.
This is not unique to Jesus, but often happens in the world. Think of Facebook, Google, Amazon. Those had humble origins and yet have grown to fill the world. Move further back and look at 20th Century world history. Harry Truman had humble origins and yet was placed on the world stage in World War 2 ultimately drawing it to a conclusion over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Also in that war were the nemeses of Hitler and Stalin. Both had humble origins and yet messed up so many millions of lives. Go further back to the man we know as Legion from the Decapolis. From that man Jesus cast a plethora of evil spirits, but Jesus then assigned him as the evangelist to the Decapolis. He was probably the first evangelist to the Gentiles and was sent by Jesus himself. Who would have thought that a dangerous, naked maniac from Gedara would have any positive importance? Jesus only.
PA: Allow God to do HIS will through you
The world wants a pedigree and social media encourages us to garner followers. God wants men and women who will say, “Here am I, send me.” Jesus was willing to be that humble, sent person and God did what God wanted through him. It is crucial that we recognize that God will do things through us. The things that God will do through us will excel anything that we could aim for. All we need to do is aim for obedience. We will need God’s strength for that so pray and seek and say, “Yes, sir.”