[Jesus] left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.
– Mark 6:1-6
Hometowns – we all have one. Some of the best things about hometowns are the comfort, familiarity, and stability they offer. And some of the most difficult things about hometowns are the comfort, familiarity, and stability they offer. Hometowns should be that place where everyone knows you. Often, however, they are the place where people only know about you. Jesus has returned to his hometown. Mark puts it like this, “[Jesus] left that place and came to his hometown” (Mk. 6:1).
The first thing we need to recognize is that this is more than just a physical movement from one location to another. “That place” and “hometown” are not so much geographical locations as they are archetypes and symbols of ways in which we see and understand Jesus, ways in which we either recognize or fail to recognize him.
“That place” is not simply a physical location. It is the place of miracles, the place where Christ calmed the sea, freed the Gerasene demoniac of his demons, healed the hemorrhaging woman, and raised to life the dead daughter of Jairus (Mk. 4:35-5:43). “That place” is the place of transcendence, the place that dazzles and impresses us. It seems pretty easy to trust the Jesus of “that place.” After all we can point to evidence and results. Our prayers sometimes demonstrate an almost exclusive understanding of Jesus in terms of “that place” as we pray for cancer to healed, an addiction to be broken, behavior to be changed, a marriage to be fixed, or even a parking place to appear. I sometimes wonder if we prefer Jesus to stay in “that place.” But he does not. He comes to the hometown.
“Hometown” is not simply a city. It refers to more than Nazareth. If “that place” is the place of transcendence then “hometown” is the place of immanence and intimate presence. “Hometown” is the place of excessive familiarity, comfort, and stability. It is the place where life is ordinary, routine, and mundane. One day is like another and nothing much ever changes. “Hometown” is, as Jesus experiences, the place where everyone knows your name and all about you. But they do not necessarily know you. It is the place in which everyone is so close they can become closed. So the town’s people can say to Jesus, “We know all abut you. You are the carpenter, Mary’s son. And by the way we know all about Mary and that angel story! We know your brothers, and your sisters are right here with us.”
They are right. They know all about him. But they do not know him. And Jesus is amazed at their unbelief. I cannot help but wonder if he is not also amazed at their unbelief in themselves. In some way our rejection of or failure to recognize Christ is a rejection of ourselves and a failure to recognize our true self. Beneath their words lie the unspoken assumptions:
- Surely God’s holy one cannot come from our very midst, a carpenter, the son of Mary, someone just like us.
- Surely that which is holiest and closest to God cannot coincide with that which is most familiar and closest to us.
Those assumptions are absolutely wrong. Despite our failure to recognize Jesus and our denials that God is with us, that God is in us, and that God is among us Christ continues to show up in our “hometown.”
It seems that the most difficult place for God to reveal God’s self is in that which is closest and most familiar to us, in the “hometown.” We all have our Nazareths, our hometowns. They are our attitudes, beliefs, prejudices, patterns of thinking, habits of behavior, and ways of seeing and relating to God, each other, and ourselves. All these things help make life predictable, safe, familiar and comfortable. There is nothing necessarily wrong with these things. But they can and often do lead to blindness, deaf ears, closed minds, and hardened hearts.
The tragedy of life in Nazareth, the “hometown,” is that we can easily lose that sense of mystery, wonder, awe, and sacredness not only in the people and events with which we are closest and most familiar but also in ourselves. We have become too comfortable, too familiar, and too secure and we are often unable to recognize the Christ who is standing with us and among us.
Christ is always coming into our “hometown” speaking words of wisdom, doing deeds of power, and offering more than we can imagine. So maybe we should stop looking for him in “that place” out there somewhere and look in the people, relationships, events, and circumstance of life that are closest to us, that occupy our time, and demand our attention.
So I wonder, if you were to change something about your “hometown,” something that would help you see Christ standing in the midst of wherever and everywhere you are what would it be?