“‘Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t his sisters here with us?’ So they were offended by him. Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his household.’” (CSB – Read the chapter)
America is unique in the world. That’s the case in a number of ways, but I want to focus in on one in particular with you this morning. Our nation was founded in part on the ideal of hope. No other nation was ever founded so uniquely on hope—that tomorrow could be better than yesterday was—as this one was. Even as we are facing challenges and tensions as a people unlike many have seen in their lifetimes, still hope persists in many places. This is a uniquely western cultural phenomenon that does not exist in many other places even in the western world. Understanding this, we can start to make a little more sense out of the reaction Jesus got when he preached a sermon in His hometown.
What do you want for you kids? If you’re reading this from out of a western cultural context, the answer to that question is likely some version of “better than I’ve had.” If that’s the only culture you’ve ever known, you naturally think that’s normal. Of course you want better for your kids than you had. You want them to have more advantages and opportunities than you had growing up. You want them to have more success and fortune than you’ve known as an adult. You want better for them.
This hope-rooted desire lies at the heart of the upward mobility that has always been such an integral part of the American Dream. Parents makes sacrifices and even suffer so that their children can have more and better than they have. Whole towns come together to enable young people with a spark of promise to go and achieve their big dreams. They together celebrate when these dreams are achieved.
New York Giants defensive end, B.J. Hill is from the little town where I live. There are many folks around here who knew him when he was little. He went to the same school my kids attend. One of my church members teaches with his mom. When he was drafted a couple of years ago, this whole town became Giants fans. He had hit it big and we were proud of him for it. If he came back to town for one of our big events like the Fourth of July parade, he would quickly be offered a prominent position in the parade so we could show him off to the world. That’s just natural, right?
Wrong. For much of human history and in many places around the world still today, the most one could achieve was defined by what those around you and before you had achieved. There may have been a kind of limited social mobility within your tier, but crossing from one rung of the ladder was not accepted or sought. If you tried to rise above your station, you were going to be reminded of who you were and put back in your place. The tallest nail gets pounded. Your community and family defined who you were and what was the max you could achieve. To try and leave that behind and become more was to forget who you were and offend and dishonor those did the right thing and held their place.
When Jesus went back to his hometown and preached in the synagogue after having hit it pretty big as a teacher and healer, our expectation reading through a modern set of lenses would be that he was received with excitement and joy. And as Luke tells this same story, there was a bit of that at first, but then their own culture took over and they started to ask, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Don’t we know His whole family? Implication: Who does this guy think he is doing what he is doing and speaking to us like he’s better than us? He shouldn’t be doing this!
Forget about Jesus being God for just a second and think about how this reaction from his hometown felt. These were people He had known all His life. He had grown up alongside them. He had played with them and their kids. They had helped raise Him. And now they were rejecting Him. They were not proud of what He had achieved, they were offended by it. Jesus was still a young man here—maybe 30 years old. This kind of rejection hurt. It hurt even more when His own family joined in with them.
Speaking from wisdom, but also somewhat from His woundedness, Jesus said what He did here in these verses. “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his household.” Jesus never sinned even in this moment, but can you hear the disappointment and hurt and even maybe the slightest tinge of bitterness in His words? He knew who He was and that He was doing what His Father had created and called Him to do, but this hurt. It hurt because they were rejecting Him; it hurt more because they were rejecting His message and the God He was calling them to seek.
In Luke’s telling of this story we discover things went downhill from here. He didn’t just respond with the bit about a prophet being without honor in His hometown, He went on to challenge their unbelief rather directly. The people of Nazareth—the ones who had known Him all His life and loved Him as a child and young man—mob rushed Him to a local cliff intending to throw Him off to His death. Luke tells us that He got away by passing through their midst. How that worked I have no idea and wish dearly that we were given more details about how exactly He did that.
So, what does this all mean for us? There’s a little verse in Hebrews 4:15 that says we don’t have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with us in our weakness, but was tempted in every way as we are, but never succumbed to sin. In other words, whatever it is you’re facing, Jesus has been there. He understands. He can walk with you through it in the direction of the life the Father has planned for you.
Have you ever been rejected? Have people you know well ever tried to hold you back unfairly from reaching out to grab hold of what you know God has planned for you? Have your dreams been challenged or ridiculed by those who know you best? Have you tried to rise up above where you started only to have people who never managed or desired such a thing work to pull you back down? Even in our culture of upward social mobility, still there are many places where desiring more than you had is received by those who had it with you as arrogance and hatred for where you started as well as the people you started with. Then they react accordingly.
Jesus understands. He’s been there. He knows and can sympathize with you. Look to Him for hope and help. He is ready and able to give them. Whatever challenge you are facing, He is ready and able to help. Turn to Him and find all you need to get where you need to go.