The Carpenter in His Home-town
by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut
SOON AFTER the visit to Cana, and the cure of the nobleman's son, Jesus walked over to his old home at Nazareth, which was only six miles away. He thought of his sisters in that city, who were now grown women with children of their own, and he longed to see them. He thought, too, of the boys with whom in other days he had played and had sat in the school, now men with families; of his former neighbors, whom he had not seen for nearly a year. His heart was full of love for his own people, and he felt that out of the power God had given him he could speak to them words that would do them good.
Of course, the people of Nazareth had heard wonderful stories about their former townsman; that he had suddenly come forth as a great teacher, speaking truths such as never had been heard before; and especially, that he had done wondrous works of curing the sick at Cana and at Capernaum. All these reports were surprising to the people of Nazareth, because among them Jesus had never shown any signs of greatness. He had sat in his seat in the church, but had never spoken from the pulpit; and they had known him as a good young man, kind and gentle toward all, and an honest, skilful workman at his trade. But they had never thought of him as a teacher, or a prophet bearing a message from God, or as a worker of wonders, such as they had heard of his doing in Cana and Capernaum.
It was expected that Jesus on the Sabbath day would speak in the church at Nazareth (they called their church "the synagogue," a word that means "a meeting of the people"); and everybody was present to see him and to hear him. In a gallery on one side were his sisters, looking and listening, but unseen, because the women's gallery in all Jewish churches was covered with a lattice-work. There on the floor, seated on rugs or mats, were his neighbors and the people who had seen him grow up from a boy to a man. They were present, not to learn, but to listen and judge his words, and especially to see what great things he might do.
Jesus walked up to the platform, and the officer in charge handed him the rolls on which were written the lessons for the day. This officer was at the same time the janitor or keeper of the building and the teacher of the school held there during the week. This man may have been the teacher who had taught Jesus as a boy to read. One of the lessons for that day was in the sixty-first chapter of the book of Isaiah the prophet. A part of it read thus:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Because he hath set me apart to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to say that the prisoners shall be set free, That the blind shall have their sight again, That the poor and suffering shall be given freedom, That the time of favor from God has come."
While Jesus was reading from the Bible, he stood up, and all who were present also stood, for the Jews showed their respect for the Bible by standing whenever it was read. When he had finished the reading, he folded up the roll, handed it back to the officer, and sat down, and the people also sat down likewise. Often the man who preached in the synagogue or church was seated while speaking. Jesus began by saying:
"Today this word of the prophet has come to pass in your hearing."
And he went on to tell in simple, gentle words how he had been sent to preach to the poor, to set the prisoners free, to give sight to the blind and to bring the news of God's goodness to men. At first the people listened with the deepest interest, and their hearts were touched by his kind and tender words.
But soon they began to whisper among themselves. One said, "Why should this carpenter try to teach us?" And another, "This man is no teacher! He is only the son of Joseph the carpenter! We know his brothers, and his sisters are living here." And some began to say, "Why does he not do here some of the wonderful things that they say he has done in other places? We want to see some of his marvelous cures with sick people!"
Jesus knew their thoughts, but he would not do wonders merely to be seen by men. He said to them:
"I know that you are saying, 'Let us see some wonderful work, like that on the nobleman's son in Capernaum.' I tell you in truth, that no prophet or teacher has honor among his own people.
"You remember that in the days of Elijah the prophet, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, and no rain fell, there was a great famine in the land and a need of bread. At that time there were many widows in the land of Israel, yet Elijah was not sent to any of these, but to a widow woman in Zarephath of Zidon, a foreigner and a Gentile. And in the time of Elisha the prophet after Elijah, there were many lepers in the land of Israel, yet none of these was made clean of his leprosy, but only Naaman the Syrian."
These words, telling how God had chosen foreigners instead of Israelites for his works of wonder, made the people in the church very angry, for they did not care for the words of Jesus; they only wished to see him do some miracle or wonderful act. They would not listen to him; in their rage and fury, they leaped from their seats; they rushed upon the platform; they seized hold of Jesus and dragged him out of doors. They took him up to the top of the hill above the city, and would have thrown him down its steep side to his death. But the time for Jesus to die had not yet come. By the power of God, Jesus slipped quietly out of their hands and went away. He walked away very sadly from Nazareth, for he had longed to bring the good news of God's blessings first of all to his own people.