Today's sermon gets its title from the sad fact that man is less good at recognizing truth for what it is, than for what he thinks it is. The story of Jesus' rejection in His own hometown appears in all four canonic gospels AND in Thomas. As usual, the scripture tells the tale as well as it can be told:
And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?
Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?
And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?
And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.
And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.
And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands?
Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.
But Jesus, said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.
And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them.
And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching.
And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.
And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.
And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph's son?
And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country.
24 And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.
Now after two days he departed thence, and went into Galilee.
For Jesus himself testified, that a prophet hath no honour in his own country.
The "Scholars' Translation" of the Gospel of Thomas
by Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer
31 Jesus said, "No prophet is welcome on his home turf; doctors don't cure those who know them."
In Wikipedia we find this summary:
In an account recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 6:1-6, Matthew 4:13-16, Luke 4:16-30) Jesus is strongly rejected by the people of his hometown, which Luke specifies as Nazareth. This incident takes place after the Temptation of Jesus in the Judean desert.
According to the Synoptics, shortly after Jesus has given his first set of teachings (and before John the Baptist is killed), Jesus returns to his hometown. On the sabbath, he is described as entering a synagogue and teaching. Luke states that Jesus performed a public reading of scripture, then claimed he was the fulfillment of a prophecy at Isaiah 61:1-2,
The Spirit of the Lord GOD [is] upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to [them that are] bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
although the other synoptics do not provide this detail. All the synoptics describe the crowd as negatively questioning the origin of his teachings (see also Mark 3), and criticising him for being a lowly carpenter's son (Matthew) or himself a carpenter (Mark). . .
Matthew states that Jesus didn't do many miracles there because of "their lack of faith". In a similar passage Mark says that Jesus was not able to do any miracles there except for healing a few sick people. Luke adds that Jesus recounted stories about how, during the time of Elijah, only a Sidonian woman was saved, and how, during the time of Elisha, though there were many lepers in Isreal, only a Syrian was cleansed. This, according to Luke, caused the people to attack Jesus and chase him to the top of a hill in order to try to throw Jesus off, though Jesus slips away. Some scholars conclude that the historical accuracy of Luke's version is questionable, in this particular case citing that there is no "cliff face" in Nazareth, but this seems to be inaccurate. On the outskirts of Nazareth is the now ruined Church of Our Lady of the Fright, supposedly marking the spot where Mary saw Jesus being taken to a cliff by the congregation of the synagogue and felt fear on his account.
Luke 24:28-30And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,
and rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.
But he, passing through the midst of them, went his way, . . .
When I first moved to Alaska, I was talking with the lady at the DMV about all the weird addresses you get in Alaska: "Mile 87, 1st Green House on the left after the tree stump" is a legitimate Alaska address. She told me that the house was always known by the name of the previous owner; "That's the Smiths' house, even after the Joneses have moved in. Then when the Joneses move out and the Thompsons have moved in, it is still the Jones' house for several years." This is to show how people identify with the people and places in their communities, and how slowly habits change. Thus, it should be no surprise that the qualities of exceptional people should remain invisible to people who have known them all their lives. People from out of town are always better than locals. Somebody born and raised in Glennallen might become famous somewhere else, but would always remain, to the locals, that guy who lives in the Thompsons' green house.
Remember the sermon on the significance of parables: the idea was that parables work because people only relate to the surface features of things--it takes them a long time to penetrate to the heart of a thing, and in the meantime, their weak minds are prey to misunderstandings, distortions, and perversions of meaning. Locals have an even tougher time getting their minds around a new thing, because they have the weight of past thought patterns standing in their way, i.e., it is a lot easier to form new habits than to break old ones. If somebody is in the habit of thinking of you in a certain shallow way, it takes a hefty, earthquake-sized miracle to make them see you in a new way. Familiarity almost ALWAYS breeds contempt.
Here is a quote from Aesop's Fable--The Fox and the Lion
When first Fox saw the Lion he was terribly frightened, and ran away and hid himself in the wood. Next time however he came near the King of Beasts he stopped at a safe distance and watched him pass by. The Third time they came near one another the Fox went straight up to the Lion and passed the time of day with him, asking him how his family was and when he should have the pleasure of seeing him again; then turning his tail, he parted from the Lion without much ceremony. Moral of the story? Familiarity breeds contempt.
Mark Twain is reputed to have said:
“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
This startling quote appears in Khalil Gibran's The Prophet:
Death most resembles a prophet who is without honor in his own land or a poet who is a stranger among his people.
Thomas Heywood, the poet, once wrote:
. . .Considering what is near as commonplace is a very widespread phenomenon.
Anonymous Translation from Greek Antipater of Sidon:
Seven cities warr’d for Homer being dead,
Who living, had no roofe to shroud his head.
Sermon No. 631 NOT WITHOUT HONOR
A sermon delivered by Batsell Barrett Baxter on March 9, 1969 at the Hillsboro Church of Christ, Nashville, Tennessee,
A Window Into Christ’s Life
"Even though this passage is a disturbing one, we are grateful for its inclusion in the scriptures for a number of reasons. First of all, it gives us some insight into the pattern of Christ’s home life. He grew up in a typical Jewish fashion, learning the trade of his foster- father Joseph. He was surrounded in the family by four younger half-brothers and by at least two sisters, whose names are not known. Because of the fact that he is called both a carpenter and the son of a carpenter we can be reasonably sure that he was quite familiar with honest toil. He shared the common experiences of labor. It might also be indicated that his honest weekday work led quite consistently to worship on the sabbath. This has always been true throughout the world. Wherever men have worked at some honest, constructive, helpful work during the week they have been more likely to worship God on his day. On the other hand, slipshod weekday work alienates a man from God and often finds such a man not at worship on the Lord’s day. Jesus knew a home very much like our homes and evidently engaged in work very much like our work.
The real crisis reflected in this passage is in the dilemma which the people of Nazareth faced. Either they could cut Jesus down to ordinary size and reject his claims, or they could acknowledge his claims and accept him as Lord. They did the former, rather than the latter. It appears likely that their own pride was the basic factor in causing them to reject Jesus as the Son of God. What a tragedy this was! Think of what it meant for those who had played with him as a child, or had observed his growing from infancy into manhood, to know him so very well, yet in the deepest sense not know him at all. What a tragedy that those who had seen him day-in and day-out through the years and who had been so close to this unique event in history, the incarnation of God in human flesh, should be blinded to its significance. We can feel something of the tragedy in the words, “They were offended in him.” What a world of meaning there is in Christ’s sentence, “A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house.”
Perhaps you also remember the newspaper cartoon which appeared on Lincoln’s birthday some years ago which showed a hunter talking to a local farmer. The hunter asked, “Any news down t’ th’ village, Ezra?” And the reply, “Nuthin’ a’ tall, nuthin’ a’ tall, ‘cept fer a new baby down t’ Tom Lincoln’s. Nuthin’ ever happens out here.”
. . . Robert Hichens, the noted painter of the sea, once sought a boy whose face might reflect the wonder of the sea. After searching he discovered that he could not find such a lad in one of the sea-coast towns of England. In order to find a face that reflected wonder in connection with the sea he had to choose a boy from the slums of London, a boy who had never seen the ocean before. Familiarity breeds contempt. A prophet is not without honor save in his own country and in his own house."
This last quotation hits close to home. As Alaskans, we live in the midst of one of the most glorious natural environments in the world, and yet it is so easy to stop appreciating this because we see it every day. I pray to God every day that this doesn't happen to me. Every week I travel for more than thirteen hours through this magnificent alpine landscape, and I always remind myself to really stop and SEE it--to see it and let it touch my soul is what MY Alaska experience is about. In a previous sermon I mentioned the following:
The rhythm of nature reveals the divine form in alternating guises. The supernatural intelligence synchronizes with the various beats of the pulse of nature; this intelligence pervades the outer world and our inner perception of it.
In other words, God has arranged for His omnipresent spiritual personality to appear, to those with eyes to see, in every material as well as every supernatural thing. Indeed, it is the wedding of the natural with the supernatural that enables our powers of perception to approach a coherent appreciation of God in His various manifestations.
Thus, to truly appreciate what we have, it must be taken away from time to time--not that anything is ever really taken away, it is merely transformed into another mode of divine expression, which, coming from the changeless Godhead, is still essentially the same. Our powers of appreciation must be stimulated by shifts in perspective that force us to see our world anew.
Without a self-conscious butt-kicking once in awhile, we can lose our sensitivity to so much. People are so lazy.
I myself have my own story along these lines, that touches on my chosen brand of professional failure:
When I was living in Santa Cruz California, I did a lot of professional playing in orchestras, string quartets, chamber groups and the like. The normal protocol in professional music-making is that in chamber groups a very democratic process is observed where everybody has a say, and no one person's opinion is more right than anybody else's; however, in orchestra playing such democratic give-and-take just creates confusion and anarchy, so the conductor is always the final authority. So, when I was a section player I was just one of the guys, willing to take orders, but when I was the conductor, I expected to be OBEYED. This was always a tough nut for the musicians who played alongside me so often, and then were asked to perform my instructions without question. One of the reasons I got to be such a demanding conductor was that, under these conditions, I rarely got what I wanted if I asked nicely.
Likewise, very often there were auditions for positions of authority with musical groups or educational institutions, and I never had a shot at any of them because talent from out of town was always considered to be better than the talent that resided right there in their midst.
The list goes on: did you know the first symphony written on American themes was written by a composer from Czechoslavakia? Antonin Dvorak visited the United States in 1892, and was astonished to find that American composers were not writing any nationalist music, so he wrote the New World Symphony to show them how it's done.
Now, why is this so? Why are people open to the truth when it comes from somewhere else? Let's ask a different question: are people really willing to accept the truth if it comes from somewhere else?
I see two alternate answers to this question:
A. People don't EVER really examine the truth of a thing with inner vision, but, rather, resonate with the outer trappings, the surface features, as C.S. Lewis would say, the "fantasy" features, one of which is certainly the presumed authority of whomever they heard it from. If they accept the reputation of the source as true, then they can be made to swallow any stupid crap that comes out of the famous mouth. Politicians have ruined so much of this country because people believe them because they are politicians. The same with radio personalities. The same with TV evangelists. Or (this is the other answer):
B. People listen closer to people they don't know because they haven't yet formed the habit of NOT listening; therefore, they are more likely to listen deeper and more critically, and glean the wheat from the chaff.
Either way, the bottom line is this: to get the most out of what you hear, you must do away with your prefabricated prejudices, and listen to every word that proceeds out of every mouth in your world, with attention and INTENTION. As I said a few weeks ago in my sermon on the New Wine:
. . . the choices we make must be based on the imperishability of the thing chosen--not its newness or oldness relative to sequential time, but the experience of newness in the old eternal verities of the heart.
Belief is a CHOICE. And for our choices to retain potency they must always include the effort of will that is able to test the outer veracity of the thing spoken with the inner index of truth; all outer meaning must be illuminated by the radiance of inner light. The formation of habits is essential to the formation of virtues, but habits of thought must constantly be scrutinized to make sure they have remained true in the flow of causal evolution. Again, from New Wine:
. . . we have to be able to redefine and re-articulate what we think, as new information comes our way; we have to be willing to accept new truth as truth on its own merits, not in the shadow of what we passionately believed YESTERDAY. We have to be willing to change what we think, because, no matter how you cut it, what we think is a dark, imperfect reflection of what we KNOW in our hearts.
Again from the Baxter sermon:
. . . Just here we might contrast this with the expectancy of Martin Luther’s schoolmaster who used to remove his hat when he met his class of small boys. Explaining, he pointed out that no one could know what might be included in the group. To use his own words he said there might be a “future mayor, or chancellor, or learned doctor!” Few people are so far-seeing or so wise.
I have a few linked illustrations of this I always drag out in my music classes:
First I remind the students of this quote from the James Stewart movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: he mentions how the light at the end of a tunnel always makes the world seem so new and grand, and that, "You should always look at life as though you were coming out of a tunnel."
Then I mention how when you practice the expression in a piece too much it can become labored and artificial. Sir Lawrence Olivier was doing Hamlet on Broadway and at one point he did this horrific scream. Halfway through the run of the play, a drama critic mentioned how effective that scream was, and Olivier made the mistake of reading the review, and after that he couldn't do the scream, because he got too self-conscious about it.
Then I tell how I used to play this piece, the Aria from Bach's Goldberg Variations, at my piano gig in Illinois. It is a very ornate piece, and the embellishments can be very affecting, but if you play them the same way every time it sounds false. So, every time I play this piece, including this one, I first remind myself to experience it as though I had never played it before. This keeps the music fresh and sincere--but, every time, I have to remember to say to myself, "You should always look at life as though you were coming out of a tunnel." Reminding yourself is the key--being totally conscious is the key.
You have to ask yourself, "If a prophet came to Glennallen, would I be the one to give him succor, or would I jump on the band wagon of short-sighted philistines who drove him out of town?"
The parable of the virgins is instructive here:
1Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
2And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
3They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
4But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
5While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
6And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
7Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
8And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
9But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
10And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
11Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
12But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
13Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
The point here is that the truth may fall on you at any moment, and you must be ready to accept or reject it on the basis of its imperishability, not its reputation. Sometimes life offers you a boat you can miss only once.
Benjamin Cardozo says:
The prophet and the martyr do not see the hooting throng. Their eyes are fixed on the eternities.
So must our eyes be fixed on the eternal in all we think and all we speak, in order for us to sing in tune with the angels when they come to carry us away.
Let us Pray: Jesus illumine our vision with divine radiance, so that when you next knock on our door we do not turn you away. Amen.
July 10, 2011