Jesus rejection at Nazareth
Sermon by Mrs Sue Plant
It was Andy Warhol who did not write every man should have his 15 minutes of fame - which is what I thought he said before I looked it up - what he actually said, in 1968, was “in the future everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes”. I’m still not sure about “world” famous, but certainly more and more people seem intent on getting their 15 minutes, at least in this country, through the media of television.
All these so-called “reality” programmes that involve swopping holidays, jobs, and even - the imagination boggles - wives - I’m afraid I find some of these extremely odd. I can’t understand the thinking of some of these people who are prepared to take part and who then complain about how they hated the substitute holiday or the person now invading their lives. When husband, Maintenance, and I go up for our week in Scotland, out of season, we go because we know it’s going to be quiet and peaceful. If we swopped it for a holiday in midsummer in the Algarve, it would hardly seem logical to then complain that it was a bit noisy in the evenings. But people seem amazed, and quite upset that their alternative holiday, job, wife, wasn’t what they expected. So what did they expect? I can’t help feeling that some of these people go into these shows with the sole purpose of being famous for 15 or 30 minutes. I can see no other reason for anyone agreeing to eat live maggots in front of millions of viewers, or indeed for the viewers to sit and watch them.
But fame, as we have heard, can be two-edged. Sometimes, the reality of being recognized everywhere you go and never out of the public gaze, can be just too much and it’s not surprising that so many public figures, especially in show-biz, start complaining. They wanted the money and the glory that fame brings but they want to be able to switch it off when it suits them. Well, you can’t. Once you are known, you cannot be unknown, you can just go out of favour.
A quote from American humorist, Robert Benchley, “it took me 15 years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous”
Well, it took less than 3 years for Jesus to discover he certainly had a talent for preaching but there may well have been times when he wished he wasn’t so famous. Because there’s little doubt, I think, that he was famous in his own life-time. In the chapter just before our reading this morning Jesus was followed by a crowd while he was by the lake, and the people flocked and pressed around him as he walked down the street. We’re constantly reading that crowds gathered to hear him preach, and the sick crowded round him to be healed. They travelled miles just to touch him and even, on at least one occasion, lowered a man through a roof just so that he could get near Jesus. The people loved him - in this day and age they would have been asking for his autograph and photos of him would be in the newspapers and on TV, there’d be a website called Jesus Christ.com (actually there already is) and he would be featuring regularly in Hello magazine.
But, in his home town of Nazareth, he was not hailed as a great and wonderful preacher and healer. Here, he was the local boy, brought up in the town, who used to run around the streets with his brothers and sisters, perhaps a raggedy, barefoot child, who learned his trade in the place where the townspeople had given him his first work, and practised his craft on them - he was the carpenter. He would have helped erect buildings, made roofs, doors, windows and stair fittings. He might have constructed couches, beds, chairs, tables and footstools. As slightly finer work he could have made bowls, spoons, and ornamental boxes. Skilled carpenters would have done all this and more besides. Good with his hands, a gifted craftsman - but not necessarily noted for his intelligence.
And this was Mary’s son - not Joseph’s you notice, so I think we can assume that Joseph had already died by then? You notice, as well, not the carpenter’s son, but The carpenter. So at this time it seems he was carrying on the family craft in his own name. (As an aside, Mark never mentions Joseph at all.) However, Jesus was obviously looked upon as an ordinary man, with his background known to all the locals, nothing special - and here he was, teaching them all sorts of things, coming out with all sorts of wise sayings that certainly, in the minds of his hearers, he could never have learned in the village school, or from his family.
“What is this wisdom that has been given him?” they ask. “And he even performs miracles” Forsooth!
So, of course, he feels he can’t perform any spectacular miracles in Nazareth, although we are told he lays his hands on a few sick people and heals them. But there are no water into wine, raising from the dead, feeding the 5,000 type miracles here. Jesus could not perform any miracles because the people had no faith in him. Now there’s a very interesting turn of events. They think they know him too well, they cannot believe he is anything out of the ordinary. And so, to them, he isn’t. Whether he tried to perform miracles but they didn’t work because the people never believed they would - hence the words could not, - or whether he just felt embarrassed or uncomfortable - hence the words could not - is not made clear. But either way, he did not perform any great miracles amongst his home crowd.
The rise to fame of people we know can affect us in different ways. Sometimes we are very happy to cling on to even a tenuous “claim to fame”. I was taught by a actor who once had a part in a TV series called the Collectors, although it never really caught on and I’ve never seen him since. Not really worth bragging about. I once nearly got a job working for the present Duke of Bedford. No, not near enough. I was in the same class at school as Steve Lowe, the editor of Beds on Sunday. Forget that one - sorry Steve. No, I can’t say I really have a claim to fame, but knowing me I’d probably boast about it if I did. Other people might resent it, how can the schoolmate you sat next to all those years have done better, achieved more, flown higher than you? Where did they learn it all, what happened to them in the intervening years, and if it happened to them - why didn’t it happen to you? Because that’s what’s often at the heart of that sort of resentment. They’ve made it - and you haven’t. You think.
But in what sense do we mean it when we say someone’s made it? More wealth, a bigger house, bigger car, designer clothes. Recognised everywhere, their 15 minutes of fame?
I thought I knew you
I thought I knew you,
Or someone like you,
A child from long ago;
With a runny nose and scabby knees,
Always falling out of trees
And ever over-keen to please;
But that was long ago
I see you now,
Much older now,
And doing well I hear;
With your powerful car and flat in town;
Designer labels and executive frown;
But as a child you struck me down,
And then I lived in fear
And here you are
And here am I,
Older and wiser now;
But I can’t forget the child I knew,
And the way I was always scared of you,
And it filled me with dread and envy too,
And I’ll never like you now.
Sometimes our feelings from childhood are too ingrained and we cannot get over those long-ago hurts or see those people in any other light.
If only the people of Jerusalem in our story had realised that here, in Jesus, was their key, their doorway, their entrance into the world that Jesus was already inhabiting. He was ready to share his wisdom and his whole way of life with them if they would only accept him. But they were too cynical. They didn’t want to think it possible that the boy they knew could have turned into the man before them. And so they mocked him, scorned him, took offence at him.
A synagogue leader can invite any adult male to read and then expound on the reading. Perhaps the leader here, thinking Jesus, as a local, would like to have a go, thought he would be making a popular move by inviting Jesus to do just that on this occasion. But the hearers are astounded. As local preachers we lay ourselves on the line a bit, I suppose. I’ve twice been invited back to my home village to preach and, I like to think, each time people have been reasonably happy with it. But perhaps my services on those 2 occasions just weren’t as good as on others. Perhaps, subconsciously, I was inhibited at preaching on my home territory, although I certainly wasn’t aware of it. Perhaps some of the people in the congregation were thinking of some of the things I did as a child and felt uncomfortable having me stand in front of them, preaching the wrath of God? Although in fact I’ve never preached the wrath of God but you know what I mean. Was there a feeling of resentment - you can’t fool us, you may be telling us now how to live our lives and urging us to follow Christ but we remember you when you used to knock on doors and run away. You were forever hitting your tennis ball over the fence into our garden, and you never delivered our weekly magazine until you’d read it yourself. Don’t you preach to us about duty and obedience. Maybe!
The words of famous people, of course, can live on after their life times. Shakespeare, for example, never dreamed during his lifetime, as he was dashing off his plays as make pennies and to provide himself with a platform for his first love which was acting, that his name would be world famous centuries later. Listen to this quote from Richard II -
This blessèd plot, this earth, this realm, this England
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings
Feared by their breed and famous by their birth
Renownèd for their deeds as far from home
For Christian service and true chivalry
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry
Of the world’s ransom, blessèd Mary’s son.
Shakespeare had a way of hitting the nail on the head, and here he does it again. If ever anyone was feared by his breed and famous by his birth, it was Jesus of Nazareth.
Sometimes words can become famous twice over. In the Apocrypha we can read in Ecclesiasticus Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us, but it’s perhaps the opening sentences of Kipling’s poem that have made those words more familiar. But interpretation shouldn’t lessen the power of the original.
We need to keep our minds open to the people around us, it’s all so easy to think we know someone, to keep a first impression in our minds, which may not be the true impression at all. People move on, they change, and our perceptions of them need to change too. We all develop, and grow. Most of us can think back to things in our youth we’re ashamed of. Wouldn’t it be terrible if we continually met up with those who knew all about us and sold our stories to the highest bidder?
Jesus rose above his humble beginnings although obviously some people found it difficult to ignore them and accept him for what he became. As we keep growing and developing, we have to be aware in our dealings with them that the people around us are doing the same.
We heard in our OT reading of Ezekiel’s call, “whether they listen or fail to listen they will know that a prophet has been among them.” That was also part of the problem that Christ’s listeners had. They did know that a prophet was amongst them but they didn’t want to acknowledge it. We can get into the habit of being irritated by people, of not being able to please. How many of us have said of someone “it doesn’t matter what I do, I can’t seem to do anything right for him” or “I just can’t win with her”. There are people with whom we just don’t seem to gel, we can’t seem to get on the same wavelength, as it were, and it doesn’t matter what they say, we find it annoying or ignore them. Someone else can come along and say exactly the same thing and we sit up and take notice. I’m sure most of us have been on both sides of that experience.
The people in Nazareth recognized the character of Jesus’ teaching and miracles, but couldn’t accept it because it didn’t fit in with their world vision. They were being forced to leave the familiar and to accept that the world was more surprising than they had dreamed. It’s hard to accept change, it’s scary, it means losing things that are safe and secure and comfortable. God’s messenger was rejected because the people could not accept that God’s word could come from within their own community. So they were unable to receive the healing and transformation that he could have brought.
But Jesus was not put off by this reception in the synagogue. He then travels around from village to village, and sends his disciples off in twos, with minimum support but with strict instructions as to how they were to carry out their duties, and gives them the power and authority to heal people. Which they obviously do with great success. Their authority lies in obedience to their commission, not in any established position. Their power lies in their message and in their audiences’ recognition that it speaks to their condition. They preached their gospel but left it to their listeners as to how their good news was received. If they were not received well, they were simply to shake the dust off their feet - a gesture meant to show their separation from the feelings and influences they had found in that area - and move on to the next place.
“whether they listened or failed to listen they would have known that a prophet has been among them.”
Fame can be a transitory substance, but wisdom should be enduring. Christ’s wisdom and teaching is there for us all, and can be heard with just as much significance from our neighbours, friends and families on a daily basis as from the most well-known or idolized preacher. In ordinary conversations gems of wisdom and thoughts can be heard and we can miss much because we just don’t expect it. We can all learn from each other, whoever we are. Teachers and preachers, standing up in front of classes and congregations, don’t have the monopoly on words of wisdom and good ideas; they come from all of us. Those who have a talent for continually coming up with these things might consider becoming teachers and preachers but it’s not a closed shop. The disciples were ordinary men who were sent out with little material support but a firm belief in Jesus Christ. This put the power in the hands of their listeners, to accept or reject their words.
I’ve been throwing quotations around this morning because I wanted to illustrate the point that fame can live on in words, long after the author has left us. So what we say can often have more power and more far-reaching results than we might ever have dreamed.
I’d like to finish with a quote from Pericles, around 5-400 years BC.
For famous men have the whole earth as their memorial.
As Christians, we’re following one who certainly does - and our words should do him justice.