Have you ever had to stand up and give a speech in front of a home crowd? Maybe you were asked back to your old school as a guest to the assembly, or asked to speak at a family wedding. Maybe you spoke at a funeral.
We are always under the most scrutiny from those who know and love us the best. But it’s much easier to represent yourself as you want to be seen to a new audience. I remember my first day at university, feeling a tremendous sense of freedom, that I could be whoever I liked and that no one knew me from my days at primary school. Not like when I started at secondary school and a girl who knew me from before reminded me of the time I came to school with my shorty pyjama pants on under my uniform! It’s hard to stay dignified and authoritative when people see you as a disorganised child.
Maybe when Jesus came back to Nazareth, something like this was going on. People had too much of a preconceived idea as to who he was to take him seriously in another role. It’s like seeing my brother interviewed on the news about the oil industry, where he works, and remembering playing dress-ups with him as a small child. We put him in a dress, and I’ve got the photos to prove it!
Preconceptions of Jesus can get in the way of people knowing him today as well. Often the world thinks of Christians, and by extension, Christ, as very socially conservative folk who condemn and judge everyone who isn’t like them. They don’t take the time to get to know the real Jesus.
This is why it so sad to hear that in some parishes here in Christchurch, congregations are contemplating splitting away from the rest of us. They have
decided what it means to be Christian, what it means to take the Word of God seriously, without really looking at who Jesus is, his character, his love. Jesus is not defined in scripture by rules and obligations, except for two :- love God, and love your neighbour as yourself. The rest is details.
Let’s go back into first-century Nazareth and look at the picture. The locals have been hearing rumours about this amazing new holy guy, wandering about healing people and preaching the kingdom of God. They start to get excited, wondering if he would come to their town, and heal them, and cast out their demons.
The new preacher does come to town, and they go along, excited, to see what’s going on. ‘Oh, it’s just Jesus, you know, the carpenter’s son who disappeared into the wilderness.’
I think they might have been disappointed, thinking that’s all Jesus was. They only saw him in the light of their experience of him, and I guess that’s fair enough. But what wasn’t fair is that they weren’t prepared to listen and discover what had changed about Jesus over the years. They said,
‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him?
They couldn’t understand how he had changed. But then they started to notice – ‘What deeds of power are being done by his hands!’
Unfortunately they didn’t continue to follow that line of thought, instead turning away from him and refusing to believe in him, in spite of the evidence of their own eyes.
It works the opposite way today. If someone we grew up with starts to become well-known, we can say, ‘I knew him way back, when he was just a lad. I watched his first game of school boy rugby, and now he’s an All-Black!’ We claim a sort of reflected glory from knowing someone who is famous.
Mary and Jesus’ brothers and sisters would have been very embarrassed to see their family member taking on a role they hadn’t seen him train for. It’s not like watching their relative on, say, Britain’s Got Talent, where they would have seen him practising over the years. Jesus’ new ministry was completely unknown to them, and needed to be stopped. In one of the other Gospel accounts they said ‘He’s got a demon,’ hoping to excuse his bad behaviour by calling it possession.
‘Prophets are without honour in their own country’ is a saying that comes from this reading. We shouldn’t take it as an excuse to not evangelise in our own country though. I was reading recently about a mission trip to Indonesia by a group of middle-class white American Bible students. At home, they would walk past the beggars on the street, and mutter about how they needed to get jobs and support themselves, citing Paul that if people don’t work they shouldn’t eat. But when these young people were taken out of their own context into another country, they could give generously, and may of them had given way all their spare clothes and possessions before they returned home, only to walk past the beggar again. Things feel different at home. But are the rules really different? We are placed in our environment for a reason, and rather than dream of the great work for the kingdom of heaven we could do if only we were young or rich or well enough to go on a mission trip somewhere overseas, we can honour Christ in his own country, our country, right where we live, by every action of our lives.
Let’s look at the second half of the Gospel, which is a mission trip. Not like the American kids with all their full suitcases, the disciples went out with absolutely
nothing. Not even any money or a change of clothes. They went two by two, like the animals going into the ark. Like a couple setting out on married life. Two for support and safety.
Imagine that voyage, how vulnerable they would have felt, but how excited, knowing that Jesus had asked them to do this work, and therefore believed that they could do it. They would have looked just like the beggars on the streets with nothing, but they did have something to offer. They had been given authority over unclean spirits.-They would cast out demons and heal the sick! But they were strangers. Maybe they were easier to trust or to believe in, as mysterious strangers who seemed to have a connection with God’s healing power. Can you see the parallels with the first part of the story? Of course, not everyone would welcome them with open arms, but they weren’t to give up and go and get a job at McDonald’s. They were to shake off the dust from their sandals and keep going, bringing the healing and delivering love of God to the people.
It can be easy to give up in a Christian journey when it gets a bit hard. It can be like looking for a job, where you don’t even make it to the interview list after hundreds of applications, and you can’t see the point of continuing. Sometimes when we share the Gospel we get the same rebuffs. People aren’t interested, they’re even downright hostile. But, unlike job applications, every time someone is brave enough to share the love of God, it bears fruit. Maybe not where we will see it, but that’s where we need faith as well as perseverance.
Don’t be discouraged this week. Remember that even Jesus had setbacks. It doesn’t change the overall picture that God loves us, and God wants us to share that love with everyone we meet.