The Prophet in His Hometown

And all bare him witness, and wondered at the words of grace which proceeded out of his mouth: and they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
And he said unto them, “Doubtless ye will say unto me this parable, ‘Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done at Capernaum, do also here in thine own country.'”
And he said, “Verily I say unto you, No prophet is acceptable in his own country. But of a truth I say unto you, There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and unto none of them was Elijah sent, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
And they were all filled with wrath in the synagogue, as they heard these things; and they rose up, and cast him forth out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong (Luke 4:22-29).

Humans have a strange affinity to their place of birth and/or raising. Even though, in truth, dirt is dirt, and all the earth belongs to God, we have an attachment of sorts to the land where we are “from.”

Oftentimes this affinity is a result of the comfort we feel in regards to “home”– a place where we were known by people and things did not seem so scary or daunting or big. While there can be comfort from such familiarity, there is also the other edge of that particular sword– familiarity can breed contempt.

There is in all of our lives a place where we go and we are still a small child– or at least we are made to feel that way. It is entirely natural: when we remember someone at a particular age, it is very easy to keep remembering them as being that age despite the fact that they grew up. It is part of yet another generational cycle.

In these terms Nazareth of the first century was little different than any other community. It would not have been a large community, and there is little doubt that everyone would know everyone else– and, more likely than not, everyone else’s business.

It was in this community that Jesus, the Son of God, was raised (cf. Luke 2:39-40, 51-52). The townspeople would have known Him from the days when He was a baby. They would see Him grow up alongside His half-brothers and half-sisters (Matthew 13:55-56).

Then Jesus began to do mighty works after His baptism and temptation in Capernaum and in other parts of Galilee (Luke 4:14-15). After some time He returns to “home” in Nazareth.

His fellow inhabitants of Nazareth were certainly astounded at what they were seeing and hearing– but it was not, on the whole, paired with true faith. Instead, they marveled that it was Jesus of all people doing these things! The same Jesus who was the son of their carpenter Joseph, the Jesus who grew up before their very eyes. Surely Jesus was not guilty of sin or any malfeasance as many a teenager has done, but nevertheless, when they see and hear the Man Jesus, they remember the Child Jesus. Because they had always known Jesus they did not believe (Matthew 13:58).

Jesus rebukes them sharply for this disbelief, condemning both them and Israel as a whole in the process. Since they would not believe He did not bother demonstrating His power (cf. Matthew 13:58, Luke 4:23-24). He then presents two pieces of evidence to strike at the “soft spot” of Israel– Elijah residing with the widow of Zarephath and Elisha healing Naaman the Syrian (1 Kings 17:8-24, 2 Kings 5:1-27). Jesus rightly points out that there were widows and lepers in Israel in those days, but God only provided relief to those who would trust in Him– and they happened to be outsiders, a Canaanite and an Aramean, respectively.

This is too much for the people of Nazareth– not only has Jesus become “uppity,” He also is speaking in censorious terms to His fellow townspeople. They want to push Him over a cliff, but it is not yet His time.

A prophet is not acceptable in his own country– this is the takeaway from Jesus’ time not just in Nazareth but also with the Jews in general. Jesus attracted large audiences in Galilee in general but not in Nazareth. Many of the poor and dispossessed and sinful would listen to Jesus while the religious authorities despised Him. And as the message of His Gospel would go out into the world it would find softer hearts among the nations than among the Jews (cf. Acts 13:46-48, 28:24-28). There may be “comfort” in home, but that comfort can also lead to contempt!

We believers suffer from such things also. It is often most difficult to reach our closest friends or family with the Gospel, for they remember us as when we were smaller or when we were not acting as we should, and the word is not respected. It is many times difficult for a preacher to preach the Word in the city in which he was raised– the congregation remembers him when he was little and may not give due reverence to the truth of the message he preaches. It is also many times difficult to reach our fellow Americans with the Gospel because they, as the Jews, have believed themselves to be the people of God for so long that there is contempt for any attempt to point out difficulties or challenges or for any attempt to exhort people to return to their Creator God.

A disciple is not greater than his master (cf. Matthew 10:24), and so it is with Jesus and ourselves. There are times when we will not be heard because of people’s familiarity with us as the messengers. And, if we are honest, there have been times when we have held others in contempt or in less respectful manner because we are quite familiar with them. Nevertheless, let us persevere, looking toward Jesus, and always being willing to humble ourselves so as to receive His grace!

Ethan R. Longhenry