The book of Mark tells the story of Jesus’ early ministry in a way that sounds quite incredible. He goes from one miracle to another. He is a major celebrity. Townspeople welcome him as a star, and the religious leadership feels quite threatened by him.
In Mark 6:1-6, however, nobody feels threatened. In fact, nobody is impressed, either. In Nazareth, Jesus is not a celebrity. Jesus grew up in Nazareth. Everybody knew Mary and Joseph, and they knew that Jesus was the oldest of the children. In this text, people rattle off the names of Jesus’ brothers, they know his sisters are still in town, probably married, and they know that until he started wandering around the countryside, he worked as a carpenter. Despite all the rumors about miracles and exorcisms and healings, Jesus looks just the same to the residents of Nazareth as he ever looked when he was sawing pieces of lumber for his father.
It isn’t simply that they know him, however. They are at great pains not to be impressed. I think Nazareth was a lot like the town where my grandmother lived, the town where my dad grew up. When we visited there, all the men and women of my grandmother’s generation made sure we all knew that to them, my dad was not an important civil engineer with the highway department. To those ladies and gentlemen, he was that kid Billy that Doran used to take fishing on Peedee Ditch. He was the one who didn’t pay attention in Sunday School. My dad was an adult, but the people of his home town kept him humbled by the fact that they knew all about his childhood behavior. To them, he was no celebrity.
Jesus was faced with the same problem. Mark writes that Jesus simply could not help the people of his home town. Why not? Because they had no faith. In Mark 5, Jesus healed a woman who merely touched his robe, because she had faith. Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, because when the little girl’s parents listened when Jesus said, “Do not fear; only believe.” The people of Nazareth had no faith in this carpenter-turned-rabbi, and they weren’t about to let him pull the wool over their eyes. They knew him.
Sadly, they did not know him. Their self-confident appraisal of Jesus shut down their ability to see who Jesus really was.
Our culture has the same problem. Lots of people think that Jesus is just another god in a pantheon of charlatans, idols and myths. They think they know all about religion. They think human beings have outgrown their need for faith, miracles and salvation. Our generation is too sophisticated to learn how to find Bible verses and name the twelve apostles. In the twenty-first century, people are busy trying to save the world from pollution and global warming. They feel that God is a needless dead weight from the primitive past. They are not impressed by people who talk about Jesus.
Christians living in the US today face the same problem Jesus faced in Nazareth when they try to talk to their friends about Christ. In fact, if they simply carry a Bible or wear a necklace with a cross pendant or suggest prayer in response to a national tragedy, they may encounter a stronger reaction than mere dismissal. They may encounter angry rejection at the very idea of trying to foist off such partisan behavior on other people. Recent events have shown Christians how completely secular our culture is becoming, all because people with no connection to any faith believe that people who have any faith whatsoever are ignorant, immature or perhaps a little crazy.
Our culture believes it is too well educated and too mature in its understanding of all things religious to swallow the idea that humans are sinful and need to be saved or that there could possibly be a God who cares about humans. In the face of such rejection it is hard for Christians to say or do anything that might persuade someone otherwise. Jesus could not do major miracles for the people of Nazareth because of their lack of faith.American Christians can hardly make a big impression on Americans who hold a secular worldview for the same reason.
We can learn something from the way Jesus handled the situation. He made himself available to Nazareth, and after they had enjoyed their condescending scorn, he simply continued to do what he had been doing before he arrived there. In fact, he multiplied his work by sending the disciples out to do the same thing. Jesus did not give up on people when they rejected him.
We must not give up either. Even though the American culture is trying very hard to shut down public expression of Christian faith, we who know Christ cannot take it personally. The culture is rejecting us because we are annoying “little Christs” just what the word Christian says we are. We have one calling, to be like Christ. We must forget about any insults to ourselves and go forward just as Jesus did telling the good news and loving people we meet along the way.
To the people of Nazareth, there was a contemptible familiarity about Jesus, a familiarity they could not see through to the truth. To us, secularism may appear to be contemptibly familiar, too, and we may simply not want to deal with it anymore. Jesus did not give up on people because of the scorn of Nazareth. Likewise, Christ does not call us to protect our own self-image and dismiss those who dismiss us. Christ calls us to tell the good news and make disciples even among those who reject us with the same condescension the people of Nazareth showed toward Jesus.