Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.
Two thousand years ago, Nazareth was a small village in the hills of Galilee, with a population of a few hundred at most. Everyone knew everyone else, and the citizens of Nazareth were excited about their hometown hero. Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary, had performed miracles in the nearby lake-side village of Capernaum. He cast out demons. He healed the sick. And, amazingly, he gave sermons that didn’t bore people.
The people of Nazareth were ecstatic. “If he would do that for the people of Capernaum, just think what he’ll do for us. This is his hometown. We’re his kin. We’re his neighbors. We’ve known Joseph’s family forever. We watched this kid grow up.”
Moreover, Jesus’ speech in Nazareth’s own synagogue had really raised the town’s expectations. He said that said that God was in the process of fulfilling Isaiah’s ancient prophecies. There would be freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, release for the oppressed and good news for the poor. God was using Jesus to do great things, so the people of Nazareth had a reason to be excited!
The Jesus of Nazareth’s imagination always puts his hometown first. “So sorry, every other town, I can’t leave now. There are more sick people to heal here in Nazareth, and you know, this IS my home town.” At least that’s how the people of his hometown expected him to act. Much to the disappointment of his kith and kin, Jesus didn’t make the people of Nazareth his first priority.
If Jesus had waited to solve every problem in Nazareth before he left home, we would have never heard of him. He would have never left!
As in every town, human needs in Nazareth never ended. Life and death went on. Aging, disease and accidents took their toll. The innocent suffered in countless ways. Bread needed to be put on the table. Broken relationships needed mending. There was always another miracle to perform or another prophetic word to announce.
Jesus didn’t make Nazareth a great and powerful city. He didn’t put two chickens in every pot or two donkeys in every stable. He didn’t set up a miracle center or build a religious resort to make Nazareth a tourist destination. And he wasn’t the local superhero who served at Nazareth’s beck and call.
The people of Nazareth were excited about Jesus and his ministry as long as they thought they would be its primary beneficiaries. They were not alone in their predicament. “What’s in it for me?” is the basic question of this and every generation
Jesus wasn’t a miracle worker the people of Nazareth could keep on a short leash. He told his kinfolk and his neighbors that his mission extended far beyond his hometown. “Do you remember Elijah the Prophet?” Jesus asked. “There was a great famine in his day. God didn’t send Elijah to help the people of his hometown, but to help a poor lady in Lebanon (that’s where Sidon is). And do you remember Elisha the prophet? There were many sick people in Elisha’s day. God didn’t send him to heal one of his fellow citizens, but a man from Syria.”
It seems that God has always been interested in the whole world, not just in me, my kin and my neighbors.
Jesus knew that saying this would anger his neighbors, and it certainly did. The people of Nazareth became furious. They went from saying, “Isn’t that son of Joseph such a nice boy” to trying to stone him. They wanted to throw him off a cliff. They just didn’t understand what Jesus was sent to do.
It’s tragic, really. If anyone should understand you, it should be those closest to you. I used to worry about that a lot. Does anyone really understand me? Does anyone really know me? I didn’t think my parents did. My kids probably don’t think I understand them.
Jesus’ neighbors really didn’t understand him. They wanted to kill him. Surprisingly, it didn’t seem to bother him. God understood him and watched after him, and that was enough. Jesus walked right through the angry crowd.
The more we believe God knows us and loves us, the less energy we have to spend getting other people to understand us, like us and accept us. It doesn’t mean that we are arrogant. It just means that we are free. What we do for others, we can do as a gift freely given.
So, Jesus did not let his neighbors’ demands and expectations control his behavior. He loved his neighbors and his family, but he knew his mission in life better than they did. God did not send him to be the hometown hero of Nazareth but the savior of all humanity. His mission would take him far beyond the boundaries of Nazareth to the villages and towns of Galilee, the Decapolis, lower Lebanon and ultimately to Jerusalem. The people of Nazareth were thinking mostly of themselves. Jesus’ mission encompassed the whole of humanity.
Unfortunately, Christian people can sometimes act like the people of Nazareth.
John was one of the wealthier members in one of the first churches I served. He was also the chairman of one of the church committees and an influential member of the congregation. I think it was the first time I met him that he told me, “Charity begins at home.” I remember that because he also said it the second time, and the third. He said it frequently.
Now John worked harder than just about anybody else in that small church. We didn’t have much money, so we paid for just about everything with chicken barbecues. John worked many hours improving the barbecue pit and its shelter. With the money we raised, we bought a new carpet and built a new platform for the choir. We also built a bigger kitchen and bought a bigger stove, so we that we could have bigger barbecues.
Charity begins at home, and for us, it pretty much ended there as well.
We never quite caught Jesus’ vision of a church that existed not for itself, but for the world. We never quite heard the gospel message that is good news not only for those living in Nazareth, but for the people of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria as well.
Jesus was reared among the people of Nazareth and he surely loved the people of his home town. He had a mission, however, that would take the gospel of the kingdom far beyond the city limits of Nazareth to the very ends of the earth. But before the gospel could reach the ends of the earth, it had to go to the next town. So Jesus walked through the crowd of needy, angry people in Nazareth and headed back down the road to Capernaum.
Originally preached February 1, 1998 in Giessen, Germany