Local Boy Does Good
My wife and daughter and I drove to my parents house in Toccoa, Georgia a couple of weekends ago, taking backroads most of the way. As we entered Royston, Georgia a large sign proclaimed that Royston was the home of Ty Cobb. The town is proud of their sports great. The baseball player has been dead for four decades, but the town still proudly boasts the connection to the sports giant known as The Georgia Peach. Ty Cobb is a Royston boy who done good.
You will see similar signs in towns all over the state. Attached to the city limit sign, or stationed nearby are signs boasting of state championship football or basketball teams. In other towns, it might be a golf pro or a beauty queen. But the idea is the same. The signs brag about a local boy or girl who made a name for the town in the wider world.
It seems natural to us for the local folks to brag on the hometown heroes. But this mornings Gospel reading presents us with a very different scene. Jesus is not welcomed in his own hometown. This strikes me as a little jarring. How could Jesus not be welcomed in Nazareth. He is known throughout the ages as Jesus of Nazareth. It is the ultimate story of a local boy doing good. The carpenters son from a small town in the rural backwater province of Galilee turns out to be the Son of God through whom redemption comes for the whole world. Now if any town should throw a parade to welcome the hometown hero, it ought to be Nazareth. The mayor should be out standing on a platform decked with flags to present Jesus with the key to the city. The local newspaper reporter should be out interviewing the family and friends for the front-page story. But thats not the way it went down.
What happened is this: Jesus began his ministry on the road. He left Nazareth and went out to his cousin John who was baptizing in the Jordan River. There, the Holy Spirit came upon him and his ministry began. After retreating to the desert for 40 days and overcoming temptation, Jesus returned to Galilee with the Good News that the Kingdom of God had come near. Jesus called his first disciples on his return to Galilee. Then Jesus set up a base of operations in Capernaum, the hometown of those first disciples: Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John.
Jesus began to travel around the region of Galilee preaching and healing. Jesus family gets word of his new line of work and they get worried. Three chapters before todays reading, Marks Gospel records that Jesus family tries to restrain him for people are worried that he has gone out of his mind. Jesus proclaims that all who do the will of God are his brothers and sisters. You can be sure that news of this encounter soon reached Nazareth. This was not a story of a local boy making it in the wider world. They feared that Jesus of Nazareth had gone off the religious deep end and would soon disgrace their town.
Jesus continued his ministry of preaching and healing. He cast the demons out of the man among the tombs who called himself legion for the demons that plagued him were so numerous. Then Jesus raised a synagogue leaders daughter from the dead. Immediately after her resurrection, Jesus returned to Nazareth. It was the Sabbath and all the faithful Jews of Nazareth went to the synagogue. Jesus asked to read and comment on the scripture for the day and was given the go ahead. Can you imagine the buzz around the synagogue that morning as everyone realized that Jesus was going to speak.
Jesus was no stranger. Jesus grew up among them. Jesus life was an open book for the other people in this small town. The people of Nazareth knew that Joseph was called Jesus father, but that Jesus was conceived out of wedlock. They also knew about Jesus early years. Sure he was a model citizen, a respected carpenter, but Jesus was no Rabbi. With all the talk that had filtered in from the surrounding towns about the things Jesus had taught and the miracles he performed, the people must have been ready to see this new Jesus for themselves. This was no carpenter returning to work, but a traveling miracle worker come to town.
As Jesus taught, the people listened to his words about the Kingdom of God come near. He called them to repent and believe in the Good News. But the Good News Jesus offered was too much for the people of Nazareth to swallow. He might have gotten straight As at Nazareth Elementary, but that didnt qualify him for Son of God. The crowd asked, Where did this man get all this? You see they were familiar his whole life, it was among these very people that Jesus was raised and then worked as a carpenter until the age of 30. Now he was the Son of God?
Then, to make the problem crystal clear, someone spoke up and said, Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary? Now that might not sound like a put-down to me and you, but to someone in Nazareth in Jesus time, that was quite a slam. You see carpenters worked with their hands; honest work, yes, but it didnt qualify one to speak on matters of religion. Then, worst of all, they referred to him as the son of Mary. Calling Jesus the son of Mary and not mentioning Joseph made it plain that everyone knew that no one knew who Jesus father really was. And if that was not enough to put the upstart prophet in his place, someone else reminded the crowd that Jesus was the brother of James and Joses, and Judas and Simon and that his sisters all lived among them as well. The crowd, who needed no reminders, was reminded that Jesus was one of them. Jesus was a simple man from Galilee. Jesus had no business traveling around the country preaching and healing. Jesus was the first born of all things. With Joseph dead, Jesus needed to be home taking care of his Mama instead of gallivanting around Galilee proclaiming the Good News that he was the Good News.
Jesus was amazed at their unbelief. In the midst of the doubts and fears of Nazareth, Jesus could only cure a few of the sick people of Nazareth. He continued on his mission around Galilee, leaving his hometown behind. Jesus of Nazareth was no longer welcome in Nazareth.
Where is the Good News for us in this story? If Jesus wasnt seen to be the Son of God by those who knew him best, what does that mean to you and me? I always like to ask myself as I am preparing a sermon, What difference does this scripture make in the coming week? This week, the Gospel reading confronts us with the scandal of the Incarnation, the scandal of God becoming a human, the scandal of God living with us, the scandal of God living as one of us.
St. Athanasius wrote eloquently about the Incarnation. In the 4th century, Athanasius stood up against the world to defend the Christian faith in a Trinitarian God. Perhaps his greatest work was On the Incarnation in which Athanasius explained how it was that God came to live among us. Athanasius wrote, It was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that he made haste to help us and to appear among us. It was we who were the cause of His taking human form, and for our salvation that in His great love he was both born and manifested in human body.
God loved us so much that he could not give up on that love even when humanity went astray. Rather than leave humans to their own devices, God took human form. It was that humanity that would be a stumbling block to Nazareth. The people of Nazareth could not see that Jesus could be both human and divine. They understood that he was human all right. But, the possibility of Jesus divinity was something they couldnt handle. And this very problem, the problem of the people of Nazareth not being able to accept Jesus as the Son of God, can be Good News for you. In fact, this Gospel reading can have a profound impact on the week ahead.
We have the gift of hindsight, which the people of Nazareth did not yet have. We can look back on all that Jesus did in his own lifetime. We can read Jesus teachings and study his miracles. Then we can look to all that his followers did after his death. Just a dozen men from Galilee turned the whole Roman world around. Jesus brothers James and Jude would become leaders in the Christian Church, not because Jesus was their half brother, but in spite of it. Jesus family and other families in Nazareth would eventually come to proclaim Jesus as Lord. Christianity would go from persecution to the official religion of the Roman Empire in a few hundred years. The Roman Emperor Constantine would build a Christian Church in Nazareth. Now, 2,000 years later, not a person on the planet who thinks of the village of Nazareth does so without thinking of the name of Jesus. Jesus story is the ultimate story of a small town boy who done good. We can see the great miracles that occurred in Jesus lifetime, in the lives of his followers and in our own lives today. We can see the power of God transforming lives here in Brunswick in the name of Jesus Christ. So, we can be more certain of Jesus divinity than the people of Nazareth were. We know Jesus to be the Son of God.
To our own assurance of Jesus being Gods son, we add the experience of the people of Nazareth. They remind us of how very human Jesus was. Living with Jesus for most of the first 30 years of his life convinced the people of Nazareth that Jesus was a regular guy. Jesus may have been smart. Jesus may have been polite. But as hard as it is for us to imagine now, Jesus did not always stand out in a crowd. We know this from the arrest in the garden where the Jewish authorities hired Judas to betray Jesus. They needed someone to point Jesus out in the crowd, lest they arrest the wrong Galilean. After all, one black haired, brown eyed, bearded Palestinian probably looked just like another to the Romans. That was what the prophet Isaiah had predicted when he prophesied that the Messiah would have no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him (Isaiah 53:2b, NRSV). If God was to come in human form, he did not want to attract people to his outward beauty alone, but to his life, his ministry and his message.
It was, therefore, as a plain old Joe that Jesus experienced life in Nazareth, with all its joys and sorrows, just like everybody else. And that is the Good News from this mornings Gospel. Jesus, the Son of God, knows our joys and our sorrows better than a distant God ever could. Because we do not worship a distant God. We do not worship a God who cant understand us. We worship a God who has lived among us. We worship a God who knows our joys. We worship a God who knows our pain. We worship a living God who has lived among us.
After all, it was there in Nazareth that Jesus mourned as his adopted father Joseph died. So Jesus understands when we mourn for our family and friends who die. It was in Nazareth, that Jesus first felt the temptation to sin and came to understand the temptations. So Jesus understands the various temptations we will all face this coming week. Jesus knows the pain of a family torn apart, as his own family was torn by his calling to live as God among us. Jesus knows all the broken parts of our human lives and loves us anyway. And it is to that Jesus that we pray and through him that we receive the forgiveness of his loving father, our God and creator.
No matter how broken your life has become, no matter what pain or grief you have to bear, Jesus understands. On the cross, Jesus experienced all the pain of the world and loved us all anyway. Not because he couldnt understand us, but because he did.
Jesus is still present to us in a form that seems all too common. In just a few minutes, we will come forward to partake of bread and wine. These products of human hands are just the common stuff of life, yet God still comes to us in and through them. Jesus is present in the bread and wine and we partake of that very real presence in communion. Jesus still encounters us in a very real way. Then as we go out from this service, we remember how the Jesus we encounter in the bread and wine wants to go with us through all our week, to experience our joys and sorrows with us.
 St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1993) p. 29.
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526