Please read Mark 6:1-6.

Quite a number of years ago, there was a popular country singer named Ray Stevens. He had a string of novelty hits like “Guitarzan” and “Ahab the Arab,” along with more serious works like “Everything is Beautiful” and “Mr. Businessman.” My sister and I went to see him in concert at an auditorium in Albany, Georgia, where we lived. Albany liked to claim Ray Stevens as a home town boy made good, and everybody said his real name was “Ray Ragsdale” from out at Kinchafoonee Creek. If the singer really did hail from Albany or nearby, he was one of those rarities from my old stomping grounds that gained national recognition. I was never sure whether the rumors of his origins were true, but the mayor gave him the key to the city.

When Jesus came to Nazareth, though, the mayor made sure to be out of town on business. Nobody hung out a big banner saying “Welcome home, Jesus” or came up to him on the street asking for his autograph. Yes, he was well-known and had “made good,” as we would say. But the folks in Nazareth were not particularly pleased. As someone has said, their reaction was somewhere between amazement and annoyance. They were somewhat skeptical that the neighborhood kid who had played in their streets and grew up fixing their plows and furniture had anything wise and fascinating to say. He was no rabbi, no legal expert; what could he know?

“They were amazed,” says the gospel writer. So were the folks at numerous healings, so were the disciples on a stormy lake, but that’s where the similarity ends. The Nazarenes were unbelieving and scornful. They were unwilling to accept that anything particularly significant could come from such humble beginnings. Their scorn is all the more amazing and ridiculous when we remember the proverb of the day: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” These proud people living in a fifth-rate town should have been glad for something to boast about. But Nazareth was so snobbish and pretentious, its inhabitants such piranhas in a puddle that no sign greeted visitors informing them of its one and only claim to fame.

Can’t we just hear these jealous, small people shouting and mocking? One would say: “Where did this man get all this?” Another would chime in derisively: “What is the wisdom given to him?” A third: “Such mighty works he does.” Then as a chorus: “Isn’t this the carpenter, Mary’s son? We know his sisters and brothers. What makes him so special?” The prophet was indeed without honor. The words hit us like a hot blast of wind: “He could do no mighty works there” except heal a few sick people.

We are glad for those that benefited from our Lord’s touch. But compared to his accomplishments elsewhere, what he did was paltry. Rejected by his own, largely powerless because of their lack of faith, Jesus went elsewhere. The Nazarenes missed out on what Jesus could have done among them. They would not hear him because they knew his mother and his family. They had watched him grow up. Such humble origins, they believed, would not produce a wise man. In a word, he was too ordinary.

Jesus is rejected by his own these days for the very same reasons he was greeted with such scorn in his home town. We know Jesus. We have heard all the stories at one time or another, even if we can’t quite keep some of the details straight. We know the creeds. And familiarity breeds contempt or more likely, apathy. The words roll off like water from a duck’s back, and we go away from worship on a Sunday satisfied that we have held God at arm’s length for another week.

And isn’t that what our rejection of Jesus is really about? The Christian faith does not ask us to believe in just any Christ, any deliverer. There are lots of Messiahs around, a good many religions and philosophies to believe in. If you don’t like the usual options, this is America—just make up one of your own. There is always some con artist who says his book or her system will provide the answer to all our troubles. The other ways we are offered are often a great deal easier than believing in and following this Jesus as the Christ.

It’s the specifics that bother us. This real person who lived in a certain place and time, who had parents who changed his diapers and read him bedtime stories, this child, youth, adult who learned and ate and drank and laughed and sweated in the hot Middle Eastern sun, this man who died a cruel death reserved for the low-lifes of society–this one is the Christ sent by God to save us. As someone has said: “Jesus is too ordinary and therefore too relevant.” Give us a deity who is out there somewhere, close enough to call on when we need him, but conveniently absent when we want to go about our business, kind of like the way the typical college student thinks about his or her parents. But this Jesus of the Bible. Spare us! He talks about real things like money and priorities; sex and relationships; lawsuits and conflict; the way we treat children and the helpless of society. Everyday values, everyday situations, like a woman sweeping her house or a father worried about his runaway son, a man in a tight financial spot or the games children play. We can keep God and Jesus out of our lives by insisting that he is concerned only with so-called “spiritual matters. But the incarnation puts the lie to any talk about the so-called “spirituality” of the church, which was invented by the southern stream of the Presbyterian Church after it got literally burned in the Civil War. No, we the Church belong in the world. In one sense, the more secular our faith, the more effective and committed we will be.

What I mean is this: What does Jesus, what does the Church, mean to you and me Monday through Saturday, not just on Sunday in worship? Living as a Christian is not simply or even primarily what we do with church committees or programs or groups. It is mostly about commitment in the every day, workaday, school day world. Isn’t that what it means to believe that Jesus is the Christ: that in the bread and cup of the Eucharist and in every meal; in the church building and in every building–shop, school, home, council, and boardroom, Jesus is to be honored; that we are to display clearly–not ostentatiously but clearly–the cardinal values of faith, hope, and love, doing mercy and living justly; that we show everyone how being a Christian makes a difference in relationships, work, play, attitudes, interests, priorities of time and money and energy?

What amazing things would Jesus do among us if we were sold out to him, if we saw him with new eyes and heard him with new ears, if we his own welcomed him with open arms and open hearts? Has the good become for us the enemy of the best, satisfaction with the adequate an excuse not to trust God for the extraordinary? Will Jesus go elsewhere or will we know and feel the full rush of his power and be transformed by his word? Will he marvel because of our unbelief or because of the way we hear and trust him?

Only you and I have the answer.

© 2006 by Tom Cheatham

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