One cannot read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life without having a deep sense of longing and wonderment about what was going on with Jesus in those years between childhood and age thirty. These years that are lost to history have been the source of much speculation. Some speculate that Joseph died and left Mary with a house full of children, of whom Jesus was the eldest, and that Jesus’ young manhood was spent supporting his mother and siblings. In the absence of any hard historical facts, this is certainly a reasonable supposition. No situation could have been more human for the Son of God than to have had the responsibility for the care of his mother and a house full of small children. Perhaps this is where Jesus developed his profound sensitivity about little children. Whatever may have happened during those years must have been preparation for what was to come. They were not wasted years, for in the “fullness of time” the signal came to Jesus that “now is the time.”
After Jesus’ baptism by John, Jesus’ life is a continuous flurry of activity as he moves from one event to the next. The activity is broken only by the intentional efforts of Jesus to be alone for reflection and communication with the “Father.” In Mark’s account of the gospel, Jesus moves quickly from one occasion to the next. All are amazed at his miracles and the wisdom of his teaching. Jesus has selected the apostolic team and the ministry is making great headway. Then, Jesus suddenly has a very disappointing experience. He goes home to Nazareth where he is met with a combination of amazement, resentment, and open hostility.
This was obviously not a social visit where Jesus came to see old friends and family. He came as a rabbi, a teacher, with his disciples in tow. Jesus went to the synagogue, as an itinerant rabbi might do, and began to teach. Mark reports that those who heard him were astonished at what he had to say. Then, like a typical group of hometown critics, they began with the usual disqualifying remarks: “Where did this man get all of this? What is this wisdom that has been given him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands?” You can just hear the critical rhetoric: “Hey, we’ve known this fellow since he was a kid. We know his mama and his brothers and sisters. He is just a carpenter. He is no better than we are. Where does he come off talking like that to us? We know him!” Mark says they took offense at him. Given the information in Mark, we might wonder why the people in Nazareth had such a strong reaction to Jesus.
It is Luke who enlightens us as to what this hometown boy said that made his old friends so angry. Luke reports that when Jesus came to the synagogue he was given the scroll of Isaiah, which he unrolled, to the place where it read: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:1-2). Jesus handed the scroll back to the attendant, sat down, and began by saying to them: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus was clearly proclaiming himself as the Messiah. At the end of his discourse with the congregants they were not only amazed, but also enraged. They ran Jesus out of town and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built and would have hurled him off the cliff, “but he passed through the midst of them and went on his way” (Luke 4:16-29).
Surely Jesus and his disciples must have smarted under this stinging rebuke by people they had hoped would be supportive. Jesus’ only response was to speak an axiom to them: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown and among their own kin, and in their own house.” Mark reports that Jesus could do no mighty works among them, except for healing a few sick people, because of their unbelief.
When one experiences rejection and threats (especially when it comes from those you thought would offer encouragement and support) there is a tendency to withdraw and lick your wounds, or reevaluate your situation. This was not the case with Jesus. He had a positive response before he came to Nazareth and he trusts he will have a positive response after he leaves. So, Jesus ratchets up his campaign. Up until this point the disciples have been observers. Now it is time for them to get actively involved. Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power over unclean spirits and the authority to heal. They were sent on a daunting mission. They had just witnessed a painful rejection. They might have been fearful of possible outcomes, but Jesus arms them with the one thing without which no disciple dares begin such an undertaking. Jesus gave them power and authority.
When we look at what needs to be done in our churches and think pensively, “I do not have the power to do this,” we miss the core of the gospel message. What God calls us to do, God empowers us to do. If the only things that happen in our churches are the things we do in our own power, we have reason for concern. God calls. God empowers. The days and weeks in my ministry in which I have ended up in a state of frustration and emotional and physical exhaustion have been when I was operating out of my own power.
The disciples were sent on their mission without food, money, or even a change of clothing. They were to trust God to provide such as they needed through those to whom they were sent. They were not to stay at any place at which they were not welcome. If they were rejected they were to shake the dust off their feet and leave. The power and authority of Jesus did not forsake them. “They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” Someone once said in my hearing that Jesus promised three things to those who followed him: “They would be absurdly happy, entirely fearless, and always in trouble.” The first disciples have at this point in the journey experienced the first two. The latter is yet to come.