“Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” Mark 6:4
Jesus went back to his hometown of Nazareth where he was initially greeted with the “parade down Main Street” and joyful welcoming. But when he started preaching to the hometown folks, they didn’t really like what they heard. After all, wasn’t this “little Jesus” the son of Mary (notice they didn’t even mention Joseph which could be considered an insult). They had watched him grow up, learn a trade, play in the streets, learn the Torah in Synagogue, go through his Bar Mitzvah, and most of all, they knew the questionable birth lineage. Suddenly, just as in any celebrity, the down and dirty comes out. They didn’t want to hear his authoritative preaching because they couldn’t accept that he had grown up and had anything to offer.
That old saying “you can’t go home again” has some ring of truth to it. Oh sure, I know people who have gone back to their hometowns and been welcomed with open arms and recognized for their accomplishments. I also know more people who struggle to return to their hometowns because of the same kind of blind-sided view that the people of the town have of them. Of course, this is mostly in smaller towns (and in those days Nazareth was a fairly small town), but even in cities, the neighborhoods knew the kids growing up and some of that rejection would still be there.
It hurts when we go back to the place of our childhoods and find little or no recognition of who we are as adults. I doubt that the people of my tiny hometown in Iowa will ever really know who I am as an adult because I have changed so drastically. Sure, they recognize me (mostly because I’m with my parents!), but they don’t really know me. They have never heard me preach, and I’m not sure that even if I DID preach, they would be able to hear me. A few years after I had started serving my first church, I was asked to go back to the church that “sent me forth” into ministry. I wanted to thank them for their support and let them know that I was doing well, so I incorporated that into my sermon. The word came back to me from the pastor for whom I covered that I had just given them more of a report than a real sermon.
That hurt. Okay, so I admit that my sermons weren’t all that exciting when I first started in ministry (hopefully I’ve improved A LOT by now!), but regardless, I did include some exegesis, some illustrations (my journey being part of that), and tied things together with the scriptures. I had to remind myself that returning to your home church to preach isn’t necessarily going to be a good thing. Fortunately, about three years after that, I was invited to come to preach again, and that was received much more openly and with enthusiasm, but by then, there was a new pastor and a number of the people who had been there previously had left, moved, or passed away, so that created a little different take on the preaching.
The hurt is something that digs into our self-esteem. We WANT to be loved by everyone, and most of all, we want to really let the folks back home that we have accomplished all this wonderful stuff and become a SOMEBODY! When that doesn’t happen, we find our egos wounded and our “noses out of joint” (as the saying goes). So what did Jesus do? He recognized that they weren’t going to hear him the way he hoped; he marveled at their lack of faith; and then he shook the dust off his feet and moved on because there were so many places that still needed to hear the Good News. Maybe somewhere along the line many years later, someone else went to Nazareth and shared the Good News so they would hear it.
What is helpful to remember is that our self-esteem doesn’t depend on other people’s acceptance or rejection of us. That may be one of the hardest lessons for pastors to learn, but it is also a hard lesson for EVERYONE to learn, especially when it comes to family or childhood friends. When our self-esteem is grounded in our relationship with God as God’s beloved child, other people’s opinions of us simply don’t matter. That’s where Jesus was. He was secure in his identity because he was secure in his God-connection. His self-esteem didn’t depend on anyone else except what he thought of himself as God’s beloved child. So when he sent his disciples out two-by-two, he instructed them to pack very lightly and to move on – shake the dust off their feet – if people didn’t welcome them.
Their calling wasn’t about them, but about God. That’s what our calling is, too. Let’s stop worrying about other people’s opinions and ask God for God’s opinion of us. Better yet, read it in the scriptures: Mark 1:11 “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” said the voice from heaven as Jesus came out of the waters of baptism. So let’s put our situation in there: “You are my son/daughter, the Beloved; with you (put in your name) I am well pleased.” What more affirmation do we need than that!