July 23, 2006
7th Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor Timothy Smith
6 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. â€œWhere did this man get these things?â€ they asked. â€œWhatâ€™s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! 3 Isnâ€™t this the carpenter? Isnâ€™t this Maryâ€™s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Arenâ€™t his sisters here with us?â€ And they took offense at him. 4 Jesus said to them, â€œOnly in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.â€ 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their lack of faith. Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. (Mark 6:1-6, NIV)
HOME. What should a home be? A safe place. A place to rest. A place to recharge, relax, refocus. A home should be a place to live, a place to be happy, to be sad — the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything, and I think you would agree that home is the place for almost all of them.
Jesus had a home as a child. Nazareth was a bigger town, as towns go, in Galilee. It was a market town, a place where there was good business, and it was peaceful during Jesus’ childhood. Our text mentions his family, and although some think that these relatives mentioned in our text could be cousins or some other kind of relative, his mother Mary is mentioned, and it would be very strange and confusing to call his cousins his “brothers and sisters” in the same breath that his mother Mary is mentioned by name. I think there’s no reason not to think that Joseph, James, Simon and Jude were not his very own brothers, and certainly younger brothers, unless they were the older sons of Joseph, if he had been married before he and Jesus’ mother were wed. Jesus was now out preaching, in his early thirties, and his brothers were seeking trades of their own. And his sisters, they’re called “sisters” here so he had at least two and maybe more — were almost certainly married, and since in the text the people say “Aren’t his sisters here with us,” we can say that they were settled right here in Nazareth.
When his hometown folks see Jesus, they ask, “Isn’t this the carpenter?” This is the only place in the Bible where Jesus is called “carpenter,” and not “son of the carpenter.” It’s very likely that Jesus had indeed carried on a trade, making the tables and chairs for these very people. A carpenter would not have made the stone houses common in Nazareth — that would have been carried out by a mason. No, tables and chairs and chests and stools and benches would have been the regular trade for a carpenter in Nazareth. Maybe even some more delicate carving work — spoons and forks and bowls.
And now, here he came back into town, with a dusty rabble of disciples with him. He preached in their synagogue. What were they expecting? Does the text give us a hint?
The story seems simple enough, and even elegant, from a story-telling perspective. He went home to preach the gospel. They were amazed – but they didn’t believe – and he was amazed, and he left home again, to preach the gospel.
The outline of the story is almost confusing — why would the gospel have a different effect here than in Samaria, or Capernaum, or Tyre, or Sidon, or between the graveyard and pigpens in the Gerasenes?
Listen to what his grownup childhood friends had to say about Jesus: â€œWhatâ€™s this wisdom that has been given him?â€. Or put another way, How did these come from that guy?
You know — I can almost see Philip and Nathanael exchanging glances. Remember when Jesus was first calling his followers, and Philip went and Got Nathanael? He said, “It’s Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” And Nathanael replied, Nazareth! Can anything good come from there? The same reaction his disciples had about his own town, his townspeople had about Jesus. From his disciples’ point of view at least, it was the pot calling the kettle black.
They had heard about Jesus’ miracles. Maybe, when they heard he was in town, they thought they might get to see something spectacular. Maybe they thought he would look more impressive. Maybe they thought he would bring them a little fame — will some of his greatness shine on me so that people think I’m great, too?
Isn’t that what we do, sometimes? We question and attack Jesus when we question his word. And we do it in two ways: (1) We question God’s Law. No sex outside of marriage? Who does he think he is? Be kind to each other? He doesn’t know my circumstances. Don’t get revenge? I need to get payback. Don’t abuse my body with Meth, or beer, or tobacco, or Caffeine? Come on. Be careful what I put into my eyes, because it gets into my soul? Where does he get this? What right does he have to say that to me? Who does he think he is?
At every turn of our lives, we shove aside God’s law because we think – no, we know, that we know better. “God’s law?” we think, “I’ve known it my whole life. I studied the Catechism. I memorized it. Some of us who were unfortunate enough to be born before 1970 have had to wrestle with at least two different translations of the Catechism. We know, we all know, that there is an undercurrent in God’s law. The Fourth Commandment isn’t just about honoring your father and your mother, it’s about obeying them, and more than that, it’s about giving them love and respect. The Sixth Commandment isn’t just about failing to commit adultery, it’s about leading a pure, chaste and decent life, in our words and actions, and that husband and wife love each other.
Having learned all this, having memorized all this — do we keep extending this out over our whole lives? A man is driving out on a country road, and he comes to a stop sign. There’s no one in sight. He can see a country mile, and there’s no one in sight. He thinks, “If I stop, I’ll put needless wear and tear on my breaks. I know that it’s better, in the long term, to keep the engine of a car going at a uniform speed. It’s better stewardship of my time, he reasons within himself, if I don’t stop. He has almost brought a Biblical reason into running a stop sign. He’s saying to himself, God’s word is telling me to sin.
But the fact is, the stop sign is there. If we so easily question the laws of the land, how much easier will it be to question the laws of God?
But we don’t even stop there, do we? (2) We question God’s Gospel.
The people of Nazareth didn’t put their faith in Jesus. And maybe they had all kinds of different reasons for doing it. He doesn’t look impressive enough. He doesn’t have a big enough following. I expected more of a show, and all he has is words. He didn’t smile at me once, and so I’m not going to like him for the rest of my life. I used to play tag with this guy when we were kids. I’ve seen him with dirty fingernails and skinned knees — and I know that he can bleed. Am I supposed to believe that this man is the Son of God?
De we get overly familiar with the Gospel? I knew about forgiveness when I was a child — a baby, even. I’ve known about Jesus longer than I’ve been able to walk and to talk. My mother read me Arch books and Bible stories while I was still in my cradle — but now I have grown up sins. Now I have adult problems. Now my life is getting so tangled and so messed up — and I’m not the man I thought I was going to be. The reality of growing up and, to my horror, not being as famous as Elvis or as smart as Einstein or as great a preacher as Martin Luther or as great a mother or father as, well, my mother or father. Am I small? Am I really a sinner? Am I really just who I am?
Brother and sister sinners — that Gospel we learned as children is still for us. As long as wine flows and bread breaks, as long as words are words and clocks tick and clouds fly and parents worry about children — forgiveness is ours until beyond the day we die — right down to Judgment Day itself.
Of all the practical jobs in the world, you have to respect the carpenter, the builder, the maker and the crafter, for the basic needs of our lives. But Jesus’ vocation is nothing compared to his true identity — there could yet be a table or chair or spoon in a basement in Nazareth with Yeshua Bar-Yosef, Jesus son of Joseph, scratched on a leg or under the spare leaf. But his work for us on a piece of wood far outweighs, eternally outweighs, any of his work with any piece of wood.
On the cross, Jesus forgave our dismissal of his law, and our belittling of his gospel. His mercy endures forever. His forgiveness is fastened to us with more than nails and dovetail joints and mortar and tendons — his forgiveness is fixed in us with love and by grace through faith.
Faith in Jesus, who happened to have grown up in Nazareth, who happened to have labored as a carpenter with Joseph for a time, but who took our sins, and nailed them, with himself, to the crossed pieces of wood — and he forgave us.
He forgave us. And we live in that forgiveness, knowing that we have, for all eternity, a home.