WITHOUT HONOUR IN HIS OWN COUNTRY
Jesus left there and came into his own native place, and his disciples went with him. When the Sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue. Many, as they listened, were amazed. “Where,” they said, “did this man get this knowledge? What wisdom is this that has been given to him? And how can such wonderful things keep happening through his hands? Is not this the carpenter, Mary’s son, the brother of James and Joses and Judah and Simon? Are his sisters not here with us?” And they took offence at him. So Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own native place, and amongst his own kinsmen and in his own family.” And he was not able to do any wonderful deeds there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he was amazed by their unwillingness to believe. He made a tour of the villages teaching.
When Jesus came to Nazareth he put himself to a very severe test. He was coming to his home town; and there are no severer critics of any man than those who have known him since his boyhood. It was never meant to be a private visit simply to see his old home and his own people. He came attended by his disciples. That is to say he came as a Rabbi. The Rabbis moved about the country accompanied by their little circle of disciples, and it was as a teacher, with his disciples, that Jesus came.
He went into the synagogue and he taught. His teaching was greeted not with wonder but with a kind of contempt. “They took offence at him.” They were scandalised that a man who came from a background like Jesus should say and do things such as he. Familiarity had bred a mistaken contempt.
They refused to listen to what he had to say for two reasons.
(i) They said, “Is not this the carpenter?” The word used for carpenter is tekton (GSN5045). Now tekton (GSN5045) does mean a worker in wood, but it means more than merely a joiner. It means a craftsman. In Homer the tekton (GSN5045) is said to build ships and houses and temples. In the old days, and still to-day in many places, there could be found in little towns and villages a craftsman who would build you anything from a chicken-coop to a house; the kind of man who could build a wall, mend a roof, repair a gate; the craftsman, the handy-man, who with few or no instruments and with the simplest tools could turn his hand to any job. That is what Jesus was like. But the point is that the people of Nazareth despised Jesus because he was a working-man. He was a man of the people, a layman. a simple man–and therefore they despised him.
One of the leaders of the Labour movement was that great soul Will Crooks. He was born into a home where one of his earliest recollections was seeing his mother crying because she had no idea where the next meal was to come from. He started work in a blacksmith’s shop at five shillings a week. He became a fine craftsman and one of the bravest and straightest men who ever lived. He entered municipal politics and became the first Labour Mayor of any London borough. There were people who were offended when Will Crooks became Mayor of Poplar. In a crowd one day a lady said with great disgust, “They’ve made that common fellow, Crooks, Mayor, and he’s no better than a working man.” A man in the crowd–Will Crooks himself–turned round and raised his hat. “Quite right, madam,” he said. “I am not better than a working man.”
The people of Nazareth despised Jesus because he was a working man. To us that is his glory, because it means that God, when he came to earth, claimed no exemptions. He took upon himself the common life with all its common tasks.
The accidents of birth and fortune and pedigree have nothing to do with manhood. As Pope had it,
“Worth makes the man, and want of it the fellow; The rest is all but leather or prunello.”
As Burns had it,
“A prince can mak’ a belted knight, A marquis, duke, an’ a’that! But an honest man’s aboon his might– Guid faith, he mauna fa’that! For a’that, an’a’that, Their dignities an’a’that, The pith o’ sense an’pride o’worth Are higher rank than a’that.”
We must ever beware of the temptation to evaluate men by externals and incidentals, and not by native worth.
(ii) They said, “Is not this Mary’s son? Do we not know his brothers and his sisters?” The fact that they called Jesus Mary’s son tells us that Joseph must have been dead. Therein we have the key to one of the enigmas of Jesus’ life. Jesus was only thirty-three when he died; and yet he did not leave Nazareth until he was thirty. (Lk.3:23.) Why this long delay? Why this lingering in Nazareth while a world waited to be saved? The reason was that Joseph died young and Jesus took upon himself the support of his mother and of his brothers and sisters; and only when they were old enough to fend for themselves did he go forth. He was faithful in little, and therefore in the end God gave him much to do.
But the people of Nazareth despised him because they knew his family. Thomas Campbell was a very considerable poet. His father had no sense of poetry at all. When Thomas’ first book emerged with his name on it, he sent a copy to his father. The old man took it up and looked at it. It was really the binding and not the contents at all that he was looking at. “Who would have thought,” he said in wonder, “that our Tom could have made a book like that?” Sometimes when familiarity should breed a growing respect it breeds an increasing and easy-going familiarity. Sometimes we are too near people to see their greatness.
The result of all this was that Jesus could do no mighty works in Nazareth. The atmosphere was wrong; and there are some things that cannot be done unless the atmosphere is right.
(i) It is still true that no man can be healed if he refuses to be healed. Margot Asquith tells of the death of Neville Chamberlain. Everyone knows how that man’s policy turned out in such a way that it broke his heart. Margot Asquith met his doctor, Lord Horder. “You can’t be much of a doctor,” she said, “as Neville Chamberlain was only a few years older than Winston Churchill, and I should have said he was a strong man. Were you fond of him?” Lord Horder replied, “I was very fond of him. I like all unlovable men. I have seen too many of the other kind. Chamberlain suffered from shyness. He did not want to live; and when a man says that, no doctor can save him.” We may call it faith; we may call it the will to live; but without it no man can survive.
(ii) There can be no preaching in the wrong atmosphere. Our churches would be different places if congregations would only remember that they preach far more than half the sermon. In an atmosphere of expectancy the poorest effort can catch fire. In an atmosphere of critical coldness or bland indifference, the most Spirit-packed utterance can fall lifeless to the earth.
(iii) There can be no peace-making in the wrong atmosphere. If men have come together to hate, they will hate. If men have come together to refuse to understand, they will misunderstand. If men have come together to see no other point of view but their own, they will see no other. But if men have come together, loving Christ and seeking to love each other, even those who are most widely separated can come together in him.
There is laid on us the tremendous responsibility that we can either help or hinder the work of Jesus Christ. We can open the door wide to him–or we can slam it in his face.
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