Sermon for July 15th, 2012
6He 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.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
Just so there isn't any confusion here, the "Hometown Prophet" referred to in my sermon title today is Jesus. Some of you may remember that the first sermon I ever preached here at First Presbyterian Church, as a pastoral intern, was from the text Amos 7:14 -- "I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son; but I am a shepherd, and a tender of sycamore trees." I still identify with Amos more than Jesus, but there is something to today's passage, and I can identify with Jesus in this respect: After 20 years in the wilderness, last week I finally found my way back to my childhood hometown, and here I begin my ministry, among my own people, my own kin.
But it would be nice if the similarity stopped there. In the NRSV translation of the Bible, the subheading for the first six verses is "The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth." We are told that those in Jesus' hometown "took offense at him" and that "he could do no deed of power there." I never imagined I would find myself, and so soon, in a situation where I didn't exactly want to follow in Jesus' footsteps. And sure enough, in the process leading up to my acceptance of the call to ministry at this church, here in my hometown, this very passage was brought up to me several times, by friends, relatives, professors, other pastors: "Even Jesus couldn't minister in his own hometown, what makes you think you can?" Or they would remind me of the old saying "You can never really go home." I think underlying all this is the idea that even if you do go back home, your home is not the same as it was, and neither are you. At least, I would hope that I'm not the same person I was at 17, when I left El Paso, and I can see that El Paso in many ways has changed, has grown too. You may have experienced something similar yourselves, if you've ever gone to a high school reunion, or when you get together with your extended family on holidays. Sometimes you find yourself reverting to old patterns of behavior, fitting into old roles and family positions--or even if you don't, others may place those old expectations on you. I do admit, "going home" is not without its challenges.
But like all old sayings, while there is some truth to the idea that "you can never go home" I think its a bit overstated. For example, Jesus tells the parable of the Prodigal Son -- one who does go home and is welcomed by his father with open arms. In the Old Testament, God's chosen people, the Israelites, go home after years of exile and captivity in Babylon, and they rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem. Sometimes, you really can go home.
Likewise, I think that our interpretation of this passage today, "A prophet has no honor in his own hometown" is often misunderstood, isolated from the context of the passage and the events surrounding it. And that, of course, gives *me* hope. I hope it can give you hope as well.
For starters, Jesus makes an interesting choice when he uses the word "honor." A prophet is without "honor" in his hometown. Does Jesus strike you as the sort of person who was overly concerned about honor, and receiving honor? This is the man who said that the first will be last and the last first; this is the man who said that when you arrive at a feast, you should not seat yourself at the place of honor, in case you find out you were wrong, and then have to re-seat yourself. Jesus never pursued or sought honor, and I would like to suggest that perhaps his statement here--a prophet has no honor in his hometown--is not the harsh condemnation we often make it out to be. The folks in Jesus' hometown (Nazareth) know him well, and so they question his authority. A little bit later on and down the road, the folks in Jerusalem show Jesus great honor on Palm Sunday, declaring him the King of Kings, and laying palm branches in his path. Then they crucify him. If that's honor, I think I'll stick with the hometown variety.
Still, we read that because of his questionable reception, Jesus "could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them." I'm guessing those few sick people who were cured didn't say "Yeah, this was a waste of your time, Jesus."