There is something that seems almost idyllic about growing up in a small home town where you know everyone and everyone knows you. Rootedness, shared traditions, familiar faces, safety – or if not that, at least predictability. Even if times are hard, or circumstances challenging, there is a certain rhythm of life that develops that resists change and challenge. We know who everyone is, where they live, where everything goes.
This week as I had the opportunity to reflect with some friends on the story of Jesus’ experience in his own home town of Nazareth (in the first half dozen or so verses of Mark 6) I was impressed again with the power of those dynamics. And I was reminded again of their persistence, and how often the contours of this story have continued to be mirrored in other stories down through the ages.
Communities that have found a sense of identity together, and have pooled their resources to make a life together, sometimes not only find thinking about things in new ways challenging, but as Luke points out in his account of the story in Luke 4, sometimes their resistance can even turn to hostility.
In Nazareth, perhaps it was partially because Jesus was one of them. They had known Him and His family for years. They had seen Him grow up, done business with Joseph, chatted with Mary, watched He and His siblings grow and play. They must have felt that they knew who He was. What's more, they knew who they were. They knew the way it was supposed to be. They might even have experienced a bit of civic pride as they began to hear that Jesus was getting to be known in other places, and had attracted a bit of a following. Good things had been reported. People’s lives were being touched. Healing was being experienced. They were even open to Him taking the scroll and leading them in worship on the recorded Sabbath of His visit to His home town.
But then things begin to come unraveled in Nazareth. Perhaps, as some of the more generous among them may have suggested, it was because Jesus was still new at this sort of thing, that He didn’t seem to get it. He makes suggestions that go against the grain of the way they had lived and thought about things; the implications of which, if accepted, would mean having to rethink what they believed about who He is, and who they are, and the direction their lives are going.
You can imagine the bewilderment many must have felt as they listened to this young rabbi who had grown up among them, but who was no longer seeming to fully appreciate His own heritage. You can imagine the pain of Jesus as He tries to open His heart to them about who He really is, and what He is being called to do with His life, even as He knows that they can’t, or simply won’t, really hear Him. This was His home. These were the people who had surrounded Him as He had grown up. This was the town in whose streets He had walked, and the people with whom He had shared meals, and stories, and Himself so many times over the years. These were the people who He may most have wished could hear Him.
It was hard for them. It was hard for Him. And according to Mark, it was so hard, that there was little of what Jesus felt so called to do that He could actually do among them. Old patterns are hard to change, and because of that, we often miss the gifts that we could otherwise share with each other.
As I reflected on these passages, an old song came to mind by Cat Stevens entitled “Father & Son,” which, in a more gentle way than the scriptural story, captures these dynamics.
I noticed that our pastor is preaching on the parable of wineskins this coming weekend, and thought, there it is again – the same story wrapped in symbol. And as I reflect on the journey of my own faith community, as our church struggles with the difficultly of listening to the voices of those who have grown up in our midst, and whom we know so well on one level, but have failed to adequately listen to on others, I was reminded that the story and the dynamics continue still.
Sometimes it is as gentle as the still painful conversation reflected in the song. Sometimes the reaction is as hostile as what Jesus experienced in Nazareth. But still we are invited to listen to what God is doing. Pouring new wine into old wineskins it seems, is always a challenging proposition.
The good news is, that not everyone in any of the stories remains bogged down in the dynamics, but that there are always some who respond to the invitation to listen, reflect, and consider the way forward. And there is no imposed cap on the number of people who are invited to do so.
Yet, I am still struck by how painful and lonely that path so often can feel, and the level of hostility it can generate. But I am also encouraged by the healing that can be experienced and extended when the decision is made to follow.
I can’t help but think that Jesus took the best that Nazareth had to offer with Him as He traveled and interacted with the world around Him. I could wish that He might have found more welcome than hostility there though. Perhaps Nazareth changed over the years. I’d like to think it did. There is no reason that it could not have, which is why there is hope for many of the hometowns that have grown up since that one. But however that plays out, it is the call to listen, reflect, and follow . . . to hold the wineskins more loosely in our hands than the wine . . . that is where the real hope resides.
Ken Curtis is Associate Pastor at Calimesa SDA church and blogs at KensFootnotes where this article originally appeared on January 29, 2015.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6676