Over the last two Sundays, we have watched Jesus grow up. First, from the child who returned to Nazareth with Mary & Joseph from their sanctuary-years in Egypt…to the precocious 12-year old who confronted the priests and teachers in the Jerusalem Temple…we’ve seen a little boy become a young man. Jesus has discovered what he is meant to do. Jesus has "come of age."
But now that Jesus has realized the task for which God has sent him into the world –namely, to tell the people about God, to show them who God really is, and to bring them to God’s love (apart from the stifling rituals and rules of their religion) –he still has a problem: when should he begin?
If Jesus begins his ministry too soon (say, at age 13), he will have neither the acceptable gravitas of "adulthood" nor the necessary preparation in life for such a task. But then, if Jesus waits too long, he may never begin at all. Isn’t that something we all have had to confront? Having experienced (in the Temple during the Passover when he was 12 years old) what God was calling him to do, Jesus still had to await the right time to set out upon his saving work.
Jesus was 12-years old when the revelation came to him regarding what he should do, but he was 30 when he actually began his work (see Luke 3:23). That leaves a gap of 18 years!
Eighteen years is a long time for someone to wait before launching out into the world with their chosen vocation. And because there are no records in the Gospels about what Jesus did during these 18 "missing" years –these 18 "silent" years –a great deal of speculation has tried to fill in the gap.
There are those who say Jesus went with John the Baptist into the wilderness, perhaps to the Essene community in Qumran near the Dead Sea… learning an alternative theology to what was taught and performed in the Temple, a radical form of righteousness, a militant eschatology. There are others who say that Jesus traveled to India to learn a Hindu spirituality, or to meet with followers of the Buddha. 18 years of instructionin Eastern yoga, meditation, and self-emptying disciplines would certainly have softened Jesus’ Jewishness and social activism!
The Latter Day Saints believe Joseph Smith’s proposal that Jesus actually came to America and ministered among the Native American Indian tribes. In other words, there is no limit to the kinds of speculations about what Jesus did during those unrecorded 18 years of life –between age 12 and age 30.
Frankly, I think it is much more likely that Jesus’ real life experiences were far less esoteric and revolutionary than that.
I suspect that those 18 "silent" years were spent close to home, in preparation for the task Jesus felt called to do. He was paying attention to the details of home-life & social relationships.
I think Jesus was learning the basic knowledge and skills that would equip him for his calling –as must we all. (Right? )As we heard two weeks ago from Luke: Jesus "increased in wisdom and in stature" (Luke 2:52). He learned to read, for example, because the day would come when Jesus would be invited to read the Scripture from the prophet Isaiah & comment upon it.
There was a village school in Nazareth to which Jesus would have gone. And in that school, there was a Rabbi (a teacher) or two, whose names we will never know, who taught the Son of God about the Law & the prophets & the writings of the Bible. I just want to say that many a teacher is doing a work far greater than she (or he) even realizes! Jesus had teachers.
He was also learning to do a good day’s work, for (as this morning’s Scripture reading makes obvious) Jesus was primarily known as a "carpenter" in Nazareth. Long ago, the Church Father Justin Martyr (in his Dialogue with Trypho, 88) wrote: "Jesus was in the habit of working as a carpenter when he was among men [sic], making plows and yokes."And there is an old legend that Jesus of Nazareth was known for making the best oxen-yokes in all Galilee. People came from far and wide to buy the yokes that Jesus made. When Jesus said "My yoke is easy" (Matt. 11:30), the word he used ("chrestos, in Greek) actually means "well-fitting". So, it’s possible that the sign above Jesus’ carpenter shop may have been an oxen-yoke with the slogan painted on it: "My yokes fit well."
When Jesus came to his church in Nazareth, the memberslooked at one another as hespoke… "Is not this the carpenter? –The son of Mary & Joseph?" And then they named Jesus’ four brothers and his sisters, shaking their heads all the while. Mark tells us "they took offense at him."I suppose it is because they knew Jesus too well. They knew who he was--warts & all --this Jesus of Nazareth. He had grown up there for 30 years!
Well, what do we know about him? We who have heard about (1) his birth in a barn in Bethlehem; who heard about (2) his flight into Egypt as an asylum-seeking refugee from King Herod, and (3) eventually settling in Nazareth, where Joseph (Jesus’ father) was a worker --a tekton, in Greek--a man who made things with his hands (a manual laborer, a carpenter).
This much we know. But let me tell you something more about this "carpenter" business.The Greek word for Joseph’s profession –one that Jesus apparently followed for thirty years –is "tekton."It is usually rendered into English as "carpenter"–implying a lowly place in contemporary society. A common laborer; a construction worker.
In preparation for today’s sermon, I went back to my faithful "Anchor Bible Commentary" on Mark (vol. 27, Mark, by C. S. Mann, Doubleday & Co., Inc., NY: 1986, page 289) where the word "tekton" is rendered "craftsman."The Greek word has a wide range of meaning (writes Christopher Stephen Mann), from ship building to sculptor, but nearly always implies a person of considerable skill, and can even be used of a physician."Anyone who uses their hands to produce a beneficial improvement is a tekton… (!)
So, far from being a simple village carpenter–engaged in making plows and yokes (which any peasant of his time was capable of producing), Joseph may well have been a builder of some competence, traveling over large areas of the country –to include assisting in the building of the new Capitol City of the Galilee –Sepphoris--only five short miles away from Nazareth.
William Barclay (the late, great preacher and Bible teacher from Glasgow, Scotland, whose "Daily Bible Study" series is my favorite resource) writes that "a tekton was more than a
carpenter; he was a craftsman who could build a wall or a house, construct
a boat, or make a table or a chair, or throw a bridge across a little stream. …
[They] could turn their hands to any job. In their hands, wood and metal and
stones became obedient, and such was Jesus. …
"Jesus could never have lived the life he did live had he not been physically
equipped for it. In those days, a carpenter did not buy his wood from the
sawmill or from the [Home Depot] wholesaler. He went out to the hillside,
chose the tree, swung his axe, cut it down, and carried it home on his
shoulder. Certainly Jesus was no weak and anemic person; he must have
been bronzed and weather-beaten." (The Mind of Jesus,1960, Harper &
Row, pages 9-10)
The Aramaic word "naggara" (which would have been a "tekton" in Galilee’s local dialect) ranged in meaning from a maker of furniture to a builder of buildings, with many associated skills in between. Such skilled craftsmen were "itinerants"–ready to move to where the next building project was.
This reality of random mobility for the carpenter’s trade made it quite likely that Jesus was not immediately recognized when he came back home to Nazareth. The city was a hub of itinerant workers passing through… immigrants, migrants, day-laborers, aliens and sojourners.
So, even though Joseph and Mary had located their family home in Nazareth, the work of a carpenter (a tekton, a naggara, hand crafter) would have meant Jesus spent little time actually among his neighbors in the town. He was a day-worker.
Galilee itself was well situated for an itinerant craftsman, who could not only settle his family in Nazareth, but could easily travel to the coastal cities on the Mediterranean to the West --and to towns along the shores of the Sea of Galilee to the East.
This morning’s reading began by saying that Jesus"came to his own country", which was the Galilee region of Israel --the town of Nazareth, where he had grown up. I guess that would be kinda’ like me coming back to Alpena after 40 years away –ready to preach in my hometown… except that Jesus was only 30 years old at the time (not 64like me), and he had only been on the road with his disciples for a few months, not decades.
But the point is, Jesus has come back home to the synagogue where he had gone to school…where his brothers James and Joses, and Judas and Simon, and his sisters,and his mother Mary were in attendance. (Not unlike when Dodi Lance was in these pews!)
Here in his hometown, in his home synagogue (his home congregation), one would think that Jesus would be heartily welcomed.But Mark tells us that (quote): Many who heard him were astonished; saying, "Where did this man get all this?"(!) "What is the wisdom given to him?"(Or as one might say it in everyday language: "How did he get to be so smart all of a sudden? Isn’t he that carpenter’s kid?")
"What mighty works are wrought by his hands!" Was that said in adoration…in wonder and praise? Or was it said in sarcasm… with a sneer? ("Look, we’ve known Jesus since he was a kid. Who does he think he is!?") Many people were saying this (according to Mark) and,unfortunately,because of their attitude… they got no further in their faith.
I may only remember a few of the Greek vocabulary lessons from my seminary days (35 years ago), but the text before us includes one phrase I thoroughly enjoyed. The Greek word for "the many" is "hoi polloi."The masses, the many, the hoi polloi… who heard Jesus preach, were astonished at what he said, and how he said it, and where he was going with it.
Jesus was on to something, and his reputation as a rabblerouser--a contrarian, an agitator of the complacent –was already well known. "Where did this man get all this?"(!) "What is the special wisdom that’s been given to him?"
Frankly, I think Jesus got it from careful observation of his home-life and social setting. For example, the fact that Jesus’ most preferred name for God, which came most naturally to his lips, was "Father" --Abba, Daddy--the very use of that word is itself a beautiful compliment to Joseph… …one who knew him, and loved him, and provided for his needs, who taught him skills & guided him in life as he grew.
It’s been said that Martin Luther, the great Protestant Reformer, hesitated to pray the Lord’s Prayer –the "Our Father" –because his own father had been so stern, so unsympathetic, that the word "Father" was not a word that he loved. A lot of people in our own day have that same ambivalence due to a parent who doesn’t care for their offspring, who is distant and disengaged, if not downright abusive. To have "sperm-donor" fathers like that (who don’t care, who don’t love) is troubling!
To Jesus, however, the name "father" was the most natural and precious name for God; and I believe it was in his home in Nazareth that he learned the true meaning of the word.
It was in the everyday, common events and happenings in his home that Jesus caught glimpses of how God works in the world. He watched his mother, Mary, mix yeast into flour (for example) when she baked bread. And he noticed how the little bit of yeast spread through the dough until it was all leavened. And once it was mixed in, you couldn’t get it back out! Jesus realized: that’s the way God’s word worked in a person’s life.
He noticed the frenzied search his Mom went through when she lost one of her silver coins: getting out a broom to sweep the floor of their little house, lighting a lamp to catch a reflected glimpse of silver between the thatched flooring or under a chair.
Jesus saw what happened when someone carelessly put new wine into an old wineskin which had lost its supple elasticity, and after a short time, the bubbling fermentation burst the flask.
…Jesus saw how sewing a new patch onto an old garment left things even worse than before.He took part in the village wedding feasts: noticing the bridesmaids and the late arrival of the bridegroom, the joy of the songs and the free flowing wine.
He watched children playing music at weddings and mimicking funerals. Jesus watched fishermen sorting fish that had been caught in their nets, and he appreciated the hard-working (yet tender) care of the shepherd for his sheep. Perhaps Jesus had been sent out to help look for a lost lamb that had strayed away…and knew the joy of a safe recovery.
In addition to Jesus’ home-life with Mary, and the skills he learned in the carpenter shop with Joseph, Jesus grew up in the fertile farmland of Galilee during those 18 unrecorded years. He saw the farmers broadcast their seed in the Spring-planting season –some of it was trampled underfoot, some of it eaten by birds, some of it springing up in shallow soil only to wither in the summer heat. Jesus watched the wheat-fields ripening steadily under God’s good sun; and mustard bushes growing like weeds, with little birds nesting in its shade and picking at its seeds. He saw scarlet poppies and other wildflowers suddenly blooming for just one day on the hillsides, like a fine and fancy tapestry of shimmering color more brilliant than any royal robe of Solomon’s
The hoi polloiin Nazareth, the many neighbors of Jesus who asked where this man"got all this"–where Jesus’ wisdom came from –could have simply opened their eyes… and their minds, and their hearts… to the wonders of God all around them –like Jesus did. Then they would not have taken offense.
At the end of this story, we are told that Jesus could perform no miracles in Nazareth. Jesus was surprised to discover that, in the absence of faith,he could perform no miracles. Only an occasional healing, when Jesus placed his hands on a few sick people, bore any results in his hometown.
I suspect it not only surprised him, but that Jesus was pained by its absence. Jesus must have assumed that faith in God (like he had) would be the most natural attitude among his fellow Nazarenes… Jesus couldn’t get over their stubborn lack of receptivity. So he headed out… elsewhere.
Jesus knew now that his work was going to be like the prophets of old. In an effort to open people’s eyes to the presence of God --to the Will of God, the Kingdom of God in their midst and within them --there would be resistance. "A prophet is not without honor," he said to his hometown-folk in that synagogue service, "except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house."It is a sad commentary on our ability to not see what’s right before us.
May God open our eyes to receive the blessing that Jesus Christ brought into our world, in the same way that his eyes were open to the Glory of God in everyday life