He was just a boy from Nazareth, when all was said and done. It wasn't the greatest place to be from. The people there knew that. They knew what people from more important places said. "Can anything good come out of Galilee?" And Nazareth wasn't even the best place in Galilee to come from. It was just an obscure little town, one of about 200 such little towns in that area, inhabited by perhaps 500 peasant villagers.
They knew who he was, all right. He'd grown up there. They'd never heard of the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child," but if they had, they would have nodded their heads in agreement. His mother, Mary, still lived there among them, as did many of his relatives; and there were plenty of older women there who'd also had a hand in "mothering" him. He could probably still tell you who the best cooks were in that little town. And their husbands remembered how he had started in early to learn his father's trade. Joseph was dead now, but there was hardly a home in Nazareth that didn't have baskets, chests, or some kind of furniture that Joseph or Jesus had made, or maybe ceiling beams that they had installed.
And the younger men, fathers now themselves, had grown up with him. They had played together, studied the Torah together, grown into manhood together. The girls, young matrons now, wouldn't have been allowed to play with the boys, but they'd noticed him, all right. They noticed all the boys, and wondered whether among them was the one who might be chosen as their future husband. That was up to their parents, of course. But still, they noticed, and they wondered.
His contemporaries, those young men and women, had settled down now and were raising families of their own. But Jesus had followed another path. The older women were a little sorry for Mary; it didn't look like he would ever provide her with grandchildren. And they'd heard some strange rumors about him. He traveled around with a band of followers, preaching and teaching. They said that he had healed some sick people. There were even those who thought he might be the long awaited Messiah. But these hometown people knew better than that. After all, he was just a boy from Nazareth.
So when he got up to speak at the synagogue that Sabbath day, they weren't too surprised. He was in town visiting his mother, as well he should, and it was only natural for him to get up and speak about the scriptures. Any man from the age of 13 was expected to take part in the discussion. The women and children listened and learned.
But when they heard the way he spoke, they were kind of surprised. They didn't expect to hear him speak with such authority. Actually, they were astounded. Where was this coming from? This kind of wisdom couldn't come from a man they were acquainted with, a boy who had grown up right here and whose family they all knew. It just wasn't possible! Not for a boy from Nazareth.
Or was it? That day in the synagogue, the people of Nazareth had quite an opportunity. They could open their minds and hearts. They could believe that, as the angel had said to Mary years ago in that very town, nothing shall be impossible with God. They could accept that God was at work, right there in Nazareth, in the person of this man, Jesus, whom they knew so well, even though he was just a boy from Nazareth.
Or they could close their minds and hearts. They could buy into the prevailing wisdom that nothing good could really come out of Galilee, especially an insignificant little town like theirs. They could perpetuate the negativity that men and women fall into so easily when they let their fears keep them from believing.
And that's what most of them did. Mark writes that "they took offense at him." Who did he think he was, after all, this boy from Nazareth? They closed their minds. They closed their hearts. They rejected him. And it is recorded that "he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid hands on a few sick people and cured them." Apparently not everyone in Nazareth had closed their minds and their hearts. Maybe those sick folks were just desperate enough to believe.
And finally, Mark says, "he was amazed at their unbelief." This has to be one of the saddest sentences in the Gospel! How must Jesus have felt! These were his people, his mentors, the friends of his youth. He had played with their children, eaten at their tables, shared worship with them. It wasn't that he needed their adulation, but that he had so much to give them, so much he would have liked to share with them. But they couldn't accept it from him, because he was just a boy from Nazareth, after all, and as the saying goes, "prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house."
Sisters and brothers, we're not so very different from those people in Jesus' home town. We have choices, too. Oh, we believe in Jesus, all right. After all, here we are, sitting in church on a Sunday morning. We know that a boy from Nazareth really could be who he said he was. But that's because we know the rest of the story. We've seen those crosses with the inscription, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews."
But like those people who gathered in the synagogue at Nazareth some 2,000 years ago, we are also called to open our minds and our hearts. Jesus asks us to believe that "nothing will be impossible with God," not in our lives, not in our towns, not in our churches, no matter what the obstacles may seem to be. It is all too easy for us to fall into the trap of negativism, just as they did in Nazareth. It's all too easy to say, "That couldn't happen here. We're too small, too old, too young, too poor, or too busy. That might happen somewhere else, but not here."
And if we let ourselves fall into that trap, it could well be written of us, "He could do no deed of power there." Not because God doesn't have the power, but because our own fear can prevent us from believing in it, from accepting it, in our lives and in the lives of our congregations. How sad it would be if it were said of us, "He was amazed at their unbelief."
But we do have a choice. What would happen if we chose to open our minds and our hearts, to banish those negative thoughts, to look at what we can do rather than at the "cannots"? What would happen if we prayed, as did the father of an afflicted child, "Lord, we believe; help our unbelief?*" What would happen if our faith opened the way for God's power to be at work?
Let us pray: O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.