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Careful readers of Matthew will notice that I have skipped comments on some verses in this chapter. There is no doubt that they are important, but their message is very similar to what we have already studied in this chapter. Therefore, today we will travel with Jesus to his hometown.
Matthew records Jesus’ experiences in Nazareth like this: “And coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?’ And they took offense at him.
“But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.’ And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13.54-58).
Friends with the Nobodies
I discovered this poem while reading a book by Paul Farmer, a medical doctor who works primarily in countries like Haiti. The title is, “The Nobodies” and it was written by Eduardo Galeano. When I read about Jesus’ experience in his hometown, it struck me that Jesus fully experienced what Galeano so powerfully pictures in his poem.
“Fleas dream of buying themselves a dog, and nobodies dream
of escaping poverty: that one magical day good luck will
suddenly rain down on them – will rain down in buckets. But
good luck doesn’t even fall in a fine drizzle, no matter
how hard the nobodies summon it, even if their left hand is
tickling, or if they begin the new day with their right foot, or
start the new year with a change of brooms.
“The nobodies: nobody’s children, owners of nothing. The
nobodies: the no ones, the nobodied, running like rabbits,
dying through life, screwed every which way.
“Who don’t speak languages, but dialects.
Who don’t have religions, but superstitions.
Who don’t create art, but handicrafts.
Who don’t have culture, but folklore.
Who are not human beings, but human resources.
Who do not have names, but numbers.
Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the
police blotter of the local paper.
The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them.”
Have you ever wondered what the average 80% of Americans who don’t attend church think about Jesus? Do they identify Jesus with the Christian ministries that they see on television while they are clicking through the channels on their remotes? Do they imagine Jesus to be like the Christian ministers who occasionally appear on news programs? When they see well dressed and professionally trained pastors, do they think Jesus must have been like that?
Would it surprise you to think that Jesus was more like the picture painted in Galeano’s poem than what the typical American clergy portrays? Jesus wasn’t a peasant. He was a carpenter. However, the reaction in Nazareth reveals a Jesus who is far removed from stained glass windows, attractive worship centers, and popular ministers.
They assumed that Jesus was nothing more than what was expected from all of the other people in their station in life. They were surprised at his words and the talk of healing and deliverance at his hands.
Good News to the Poor
What was surprising to the people of Nazareth, was and is good news for the poor. When Jesus told John the Baptist who he was, he said “the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11.5).
Jesus did not preach good news to the poor from a top-down position of superiority. He emptied himself and took on the role of a servant in a literal sense of the word. Paul explains this to us in beautiful language, but we should not romanticize it. Jesus’ humble stature was real and the people of Nazareth knew it.
Paul wrote, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2.5-8).
Paul also wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8.9).
In a very literal sense, the Book of Hebrews is right about Jesus. It says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4.15).
If I am right about the actual status of Jesus when he walked our earth, what are the implications of it for us today?
First, the poor, the vulnerable, the broken, the oppressed and others like them have true solidarity with Jesus. Jesus knows first hand what it is like to be seen as poor, uneducated, and disrespected by society. He is able to sympathize with all of the weaknesses we face.
Second, we do well to imitate Jesus in his humility. Even though he is Lord of All, he did not lord it over people. He touched lepers and brought them back into the community. He restored “broken” women and included them in his band of followers.
I am thankful that Maywood Baptist Church has many who imitate Jesus in this respect. From people who help suffering addicts to those who provide financial assistance, I am thankful to see our commitment to people who resemble the station in life that Jesus experienced.
Personally, as I consider Jesus’ role in life and the reaction of people in Nazareth to him, I have an urge to be more like him. I am praying about ways that I can adjust my life to be more like him in this regard.
Third, Jesus said, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19.30). I have a suspicion that first-place-finishers like me might be surprised when I arrive in heaven. There may be many of the world’s “nobodies,” who have been last-place-finishers throughout their lives, far ahead of me in the glorious kingdom to come.
No Faith – No Miracles
It is hard to have faith in someone whom you don’t respect. It shouldn’t surprise us that the account of Jesus’ visit to his hometown ended with these words: “And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13.58).
If we want to grow our faith and maybe even see miracles, we need to cultivate a deeper respect for Jesus. If we continue to read the life of Jesus in the Gospels, it will help us see him in a more profound and awesome light. If we set aside time to sit before him in worship, the awe of his presence will become part of the atmosphere in which we live.
Obedience should be a given with regard to respect. As we obey him, we demonstrate to him that we respect his leadership and guidance as the best way to live our lives.
Dear Jesus, thank you for your awesome character and nature. I pray that you draw us into a deeper appreciation of who you are. May we genuinely respect you in every way. You are truly worthy to receive all honor, respect and glory.