In Luke 4 we find Jesus teaching in the synagogue at Nazareth (the same as in Mark 6:1-6). He reminds the people of the times when the Prophets Elijah and Elisha were sent to help Gentiles – Elijah was sent to the widow Zarephath in the Gentile town of Sidon… and Elisha healed Naaman the Gentile from Syria. In saying this, Jesus touched a deep nerve of prejudice and bigotry in their hearts. And they rejected him for that. They hated him for that. (Luke 4:23-29) You see, Jesus is going to challenge you to the core of your being by what he does and what he says. He’s going to challenge your long-held beliefs about all kinds of things that you grew up believing or attitudes shaped by your parents’ influence. Attitudes that might include prejudice and racism. And the question always becomes: do you have faith in him alone so as to align and yield yourself to him anyway? On the whole, his family did not. His extended family in Nazareth did not. They rejected him.
Anyone of us who grew up in a small town like Nazareth – or Pahokee – can easily develop small-town attitudes of prejudice and reject anything and anyone that isn’t part of the inner circle. Small towns are notorious for that! My wife and I have eaten in lots of small-town restaurants all over the US (and I mean small 2-lane towns) where everyone knows everyone else. The minute you walk into a restaurant in a very small town, everyone looks at you with suspicion. Have you ever experienced that kind of suspicion – that hint of distrust from the looks on people’s faces and body language? You’re the stranger in town. But Jesus was no stranger in Nazareth. He was their home-town boy! Yet, Jesus was not a home-town hero. He was despised and rejected by his own people.
And that rejection will extend to you and me as followers of Jesus. Look at Jesus instructions to his disciples in the next few verses in Mark 6. He’s sending them out two by two and giving them authority to cast out demons and heal in his name. But in v11 he says “And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (Mark 6:11) The disciples were the first believers to experience rejection from the world even though they were able to perform healing miracles and cast out demons! Listen to what I just said! Even though the disciples performed miracles, there were people who rejected them and their message! Their ministry – and our ministry by extension – replicates the ministry of Jesus. When sharing Jesus, we should never be surprised by rejection, apathy, disregard or hatred. Isaiah prophesied this in chapter 53: Messiah Jesus was the Suffering Servant. It happened to the disciples. It will happen to you and me. But the Good News is that there will be people who respond… who believe… who trust… who produce an abundant spiritual crop. Go and share the love of Jesus despite the possibility of rejection. The love of Jesus is what conquers hatred in our world. The love of Jesus is what unites us. The love of Jesus is what brings about refreshing community in diverse people. Be strong. Be courageous. Share your faith story. Tell others about the grace of God in your life!