“Honey, I don’t think you irritated anyone at Church today. I’m proud of you.” Lynette Chambers
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. Mark 6:1-2
It must have been quite an impressive sermon. The people were amazed at his authority and eloquence. And yet the more they talked about it the angrier they got. The story actually says, “They took offense at him.” Why? What was it about his sermon that so irritating?
In Luke’s version he tells us, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” How can you be irritated at “gracious words?” Because the fine folks in Nazareth are like me in that I would like to choose who God is going to be gracious to and who he is going to be wrathful towards. And yet Jesus was announcing that God wants to be merciful to all peoples of all nations, even the sworn enemies of Israel. And this is where the hometown folks of Nazareth failed to resemble Jesus the most.
God will love whom He will love and we don’t get to advise Him on this issue. But the good people of Nazareth thought they might. They had an idea of who God should show mercy towards and who He shouldn’t. And when Jesus planed against that grain, he was rejected as a legitimate prophet; labeled a handyman-washout and rabbi want-to-be, and finally rejected in his own home town.
There is a level of contempt in this exchange that is palpable. In fact, it amazed Jesus. I could only find two places in the New Testament where we are told that Jesus is amazed. One is when a Gentile exercised a staggering amount of faith in Jesus, and here where his hometown treated Him with such scorn.
It seems He wanted to do “deeds of power” but could only cure a few sick folk so he moved on. Apparently, Jesus only lingers where He is welcome. If you lean forward and listen carefully you can hear contempt in the voice of the village elders as they make observations about Jesus when he finished his sermon.
“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?”
Notice three things about this not-so-innocent question: One, it was not a question. Two, the phrase “son of Mary” means they are questioning his parentage. This was a first century euphemism for ‘bastard.’ In that society you always named the son by naming the father, not the mother. Three, by calling Jesus “the carpenter” they were calling him the equivalent of a handy man, a jack-of-all-trades.
Need your door fixed? Need your gate re-hung? Need your sink unplugged? Call Jesus. He was the ultimate “Hubbies Helper.”
I imagine the tone of voice to be one of derision and contempt. Contempt is an ugly word. Maybe it’s those hard consonants that thump when you say the word. More likely its baggage comes from usage in our common tongue.
You’ve heard the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt?” Ever wonder where that came from? The maxim dates back to the second century B.C. Aesop wrote a fable to illustrate it. A fox had never before seen a lion and when he first met the king of the beasts, the fox was nearly frightened to death. At their second meeting, the fox was not frightened as much and the third time he met the lion, the fox went up and started talking with him. And the moral of the story? Familiarity makes even the most frightening things seem quite harmless.
My problem is that I’ve known Jesus longer than the folks in Nazareth. They knew him for thirty years, but I have known him for fifty. I’ve studied him, talked to him, argued with him and explained him to anyone who would listen and more than a few who wouldn’t.
I wonder if Jesus, the Lion of Judah, has become harmless to me.
Along with this sense of familiarity, I wonder if Jesus actually feels welcomed in my life. Does he sense contempt behind my patronizing prayers and woodened worship? Two quick scenes just flashed in my mind from Scripture that are hauntingly convicting.
One is a post resurrection sighting of Jesus towards the end of Luke where Jesus is walking along the road with two discouraged disciples.
“As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him…” Luke 24:28-31a
They wanted this stranger, who sounded strangely familiar, to share a meal with them. No contempt here.
The other scene is in the last book of the Bible where John the Revelator records Jesus words to a Church called Laodicea and confronts them about their apathy. Jesus admonishes them to be either hot or cold but not lukewarm. And what is the remedy to this apathetic attitude towards Jesus?
Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. Revelation 3:20
It seems that the solution to apathy, discouragement and even the lack of faith is more quiet intimacy with him.
Sometimes my wife and I can sit for long stretches of time in wordless intimacy. We have gained this over three decades of loving, serving and living together. We enjoy each other’s company. We don’t have to do anything fun to have a lovely day. Walks around the block, sitting in the sun on the deck watching the Puget Sound, and driving around town running errands are all wonderful experiences of love. You just can’t rush love. It comes in the faithful daily-ness of a life lived for the well-being of another.
What frightens my wife and encourages me is the truism that the longer a couple lives and loves together the more they will resemble one another physically and in character. Something the village elders of Jesus’ hometown never took the time to learn.
Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.
I have learned that intimacy transcends familiarity. And while Jesus is far from safe, he is, as C.S. Lewis has said, “good.” And the daily-ness of that goodness in my life, over time, will bring about a holy resemblance.
At least that is my wife’s prayer.