Preached by the Rev Canon John Kilgore at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, July 5, 2009.
“Prophets are not without honor except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”
[Given as a dramatic reading, not from the pulpit but meandering among the congregation with a yellow parchment scroll as if the disciple John were reviewing the manuscript of his memoirs, with parenthetical comments in that vein interjected.]
You know, I remember that incident. We, the Twelve, were with Jesus, in his hometown of Nazareth. We were in the synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus’ sisters were there, Mary and Joseph were away. Jesus was teaching really profound stuff; he was very wise. But he just wasn’t getting any traction. People were saying, ‘Oh, local boy thinks he knows so much…’ ‘He is just one of us…’ ‘He puts his tunic on just like I do…’ ‘Who does he think he is?’ ‘He is a carpenter for heaven’s sake!’
It was really a pretty uncomfortable encounter. Jesus got quite upset, as he was able to do from time to time.
Oh yeah, this tunic, the second one. In my old age I wear it for warmth, so often forgetting Jesus’ lessons about frugality. Anyway, as I was saying… allow me to give you my perspective please. I’m kind of working on my memoirs here… But you may not recognize me.
I’m John, son of Zebedee. I’m now in my eighties retired and living in Ephesus, reflecting on a long and amazing life, pretty feeble these days but my mind is sharp. It was about sixty years ago that my brother James and I were mending our fishing nets on the Sea of Galilee. Our father Zebedee had his workers in the boat with him and we were just about to go out on another fishing expedition, that is as soon as James and I got the nets mended my father told us. When along came this bearded guy with two friends named Simon and Andrew, they were fishermen and brothers also. The three of them came along, it turns out they had just met, only a few hours before. And this guy Jesus, who said he was from Nazareth, talked us into joining him and his new friends, ‘fishing for people…’ he said. I had no idea what I was in for and had a job to do going fishing to support the family. But Jesus was amazingly convincing, had a charisma like you wouldn’t believe. James and I up and left our dad in the boat with the workers. I felt pretty bad about that. It took dad a long time to get over it. He ultimately understood, after he got to know Jesus, forgave us, and became a follower of Jesus himself, as did my mother. Ultimately my brother James and I together baptized our parents with the Holy Spirit, it was very was cool.
Anyway, from there we went on to Capernaum where Jesus began to teach in the synagogue. It was there that we first we came to know what an amazing rabbi he was. He taught with such authority, not like the scribes we were used to hearing in the synagogue. All you had to do was sit and listen to him. And then see the miracles and healings he performed… The first one we saw was a man in the synagogue in Capernaum with an unclean spirit. Watching him cast that spirit out was astounding. Then we went to the house of Simon and Andrew and Simon’s mother-in-law was sick – he healed her right then and there; then she got up and served us lunch. We stayed a few days in Capernaum, during which time he cast out many spirits and healed many sick people. From there we went on a preaching tour in Galilee, we saw him cleanse a leper (one of the untouchables, but Jesus didn’t care), heal a paralytic, restore a withered hand. We almost got in a little trouble when we had dinner at that tax collector Levi’s house. There were some pretty unsavory characters there and the Pharisees (you know, the religious party so conservative, the ones who interpret the law quite literally and want nothing to change) got quite upset asking why he ate with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus took care of it with one of his great one liners: ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have come not to call the righteous but sinners.’
One of the most phenomenal days was when we were back along the Sea of Galilee, these huge crowds just followed us wherever we went. It was really difficult to get away to pray, we had to work at it but He always insisted that it was so important. He taught us over and over that the time serving others must be interspersed with time away, quietly, to pray, to know the Father. We worked hard at getting those times. Anyway, we were quietly tucked away praying and recharging until ‘He’ was recognized and people started gathering. Before long there were five thousand, and it was late. He charged us with feeding them: ‘Give them something to eat.’ We had five loaves and two fish… After he prayed, blessed and broke the loaves, we fed everyone, all five thousand, with twelve baskets left over! Astounding.
But you have probably already heard most of these stories…and the parables. The really interesting pivotal point was right there in Nazareth, that we were just talking about a few minutes ago, when he charged the twelve of us with going out, with being his disciples. That was a stepup in terms. For most of the time he call my brother James and me by the nickname he gave us, ‘Boanerges,’ ‘Sons of thunder.’ I never understood why he chose that. Anyway, we were in his hometown and he wasn’t getting much respect, as I said earlier. That’s when he said, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown…’ By this time Jesus had already memorized the Torah in his local school in Nazareth, studied under great rabbis, and spent a lot of time in synagogues debating the interpretation of the Torah. In Jerusalem, Cana, and other villages He was already recognized as an amazing rabbi, but his hometown just couldn’t quite wrap their arms around it. What is important to remember is that a prophet is not one who looks into or predicts the future. Rather, a prophet is one who has insight into the present, which is what Jesus was so very good at doing. But like the other prophets of old, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Daniel, and others, He got significant pushback, particularly in his hometown.
I guess that’s why He decided to delegate authority to us. That and the fact that he kept telling us He would not always be around. And it looks like it was a good thing, for Jesus’ followers are still proclaiming the message sixty years after his death and those who followed John the Baptist died out quickly after his beheading by King Herod. Anyway, we were out in the villages teaching and He called us together, told us that twelve of us (some symbolism with the twelve tribes of Israel?) were especially charged with taking his message out, carrying it on, as He would not be with us always, though He really is with us always. His spirit continues among us, I feel it every day, even at my advanced age. He told us that we had to go out, without Him, in pairs, two by two. And furthermore he charged us to go with almost nothing! No bread, no bag, no money, and only one tunic even though the nights in the desert get quite cool and one almost always needs an extra wrap at night. We were to take our staff, one tunic, and our sandals. In hindsight it was really an amazing experience. I thought I needed so much, my scrolls, my personal items, a sleeping mat, a chalice to hold wine at meals. I wanted at least to pack up a shoulderbag with basic belongings. We tried to talk him out of it! But no. Only the staff, tunic, and sandals. But you know what happened, in spite of traveling with nothing we proclaimed repentance, cast out demons, anointed and cured the sick…and found we didn’t need all that ‘stuff of life.’ All those extras just get in the way of being focused on the main thing. And that is what Jesus taught us, ‘Keep the main thing the main thing!’
It was when we got together after we were sent out, that we were able to reflect and understand how He had changed our perspective. We are given so much, but there is so very little we ‘need’. And all this happened before we saw Elijah on the mountaintop, before we returned to Jerusalem, before I rested on his bosom at that Last Supper with him, experienced the agony in the garden when he sweated blood (we thought he was sick), and of course the Crucifixion.
An amazing life of experiences with Jesus. There are lots more stories. What can I distill as lessons? Jesus said again and again and in different words, “My grace is made sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Sending out with nothing. Ruling from a position of weakness. Probably from the beginning we saw Him do that in Nazareth, watched how gently he dealt with those who couldn’t accept Him as prophet. He didn’t force it upon them…just went slowly along his way doing His thing, continuing to heal and to love. Never really proclaimed himself. Lived by example. Another thing, He used simple uneducated fishermen to teach the world about God, and sent us out simply, carrying nothing. Jesus helped us a bit to see as God sees, and in God’s time. We can learn about God from every single person. Every face reflects Jesus.
Another lesson he taught us was about reliance. Illness, trauma, tragedy, grief, suffering befall us all at some point. We tend to think we are pretty much in control of our lives, usually till these tribulations land upon us. So many of the people Jesus inspired, showed a way of faith, were at low points in their lives. When our lives are turned most upside down is when we can best get to know Him. Trauma pushes us to being with one another in community and it also shifts us from being in control and relying on ourselves to relying on God. But we tend to do that when we are in greatest need. Just as a parent you want your children to call you frequently and regularly, so God wants us to be involved with Godself daily, hourly. God wants to be a part of our daily routine, our habit.
Last of all, Jesus was really pretty direct in His message: you are children of God, be good to yourselves; love your neighbors as yourselves, they too are children of God; love God. It’s that simple.
I had the opportunity to walk with him as a fellow human being for three years. Since the Resurrection you have the opportunity to walk with Him every minute. You have only heard a few of the stories here today. You really should learn more of them. He can make a difference in your life. He did in mine… After all, he’s not just a carpenter for heaven’s sake.