When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

The King Among His Neighbors

And now, at last, after these great weeks, the King was back again in his own home. There was the little town in the hollow of the hills with the green heights about it. The dusty streets ran between the white houses, and there among them was the carpenter's cottage, and beside it, in the shade of the trees, the carpenter's bench. The shavings lay beneath it as he had left them on the day when he started on his journey. His mother and his brothers and sisters stood at the door; and as the sun set and the stars came out, and the cool winds blew down from the peaks above, they talked together in the twilight, and he told them what he had done while he was away.

But not all. There are some things which cannot be said unless the listeners are in perfect sympathy; and even then there are thoughts too deep and hopes too high for speech. It is not likely that our Lord told them that he was the King of Glory, the Son of God. It is not likely that he told them that he was the Messiah, though they may have guessed that that was what he thought. He said that he would never be a carpenter again, that he had decided to give up his trade and to go about the country preaching; and he must have said that he had been led to this decision by the call of God. Of this we may be as sure as if we had sat there in a dark corner hearing what he spoke. And they did not like it; that, too, is plain. James did not like it; he felt that it was irregular and improper. He wished to have all things go quietly on in the usual way. The brothers and sisters agreed with him. They all had good arguments against it. The mother probably said little, dimly remembering the message of the angel; but she did not like it, either. They were all against it. They urged him not to do it, but to live like other people. They were satisfied with things as they were, but he was not satisfied.

Then came the sabbath day, and everybody went to church. The church, which they called the synagogue, stood in the midst of the houses like a New England meeting-house in a country town, except that it had no steeple. It was a plain, square building, entered by three doors. Within were two rows of pillars, and at the end of the room was a platform, on which sat the most important people, in the chief seats. In the midst of the platform was a pulpit, and behind the pulpit a curtain, and behind the curtain a chest, and in the chest a Bible. But there was no New Testament in the Bible; that had not yet been written. And the Old Testament was in pen-and-ink, on various rolls of parchment. Overhead, before the curtain, hung a lighted lamp. So in came the congregation: old men and women who had known our Lord from the days of his early childhood, and remembered him before he could walk; and young men and women who had been to school with him, with whom he had played and worked; and boys and girls. And our Lord, still wearing his carpenter's coat, sat in his usual place beside his family.

The service began with a long prayer, which everybody knew by heart; then they read out of the Bible, different men coming up from the congregation, each reading a few verses, and, if he chose, making some brief comment upon them. The ruler of the synagogue indicated the men who were to read. Last of all, he beckoned to Jesus.

Word had already gone about the village that the carpenter felt that he was called to be a prophet. Nowadays, when we speak of a prophet we mean one who foretells what will happen in the future, but in the Bible the name is used for a preacher, for a man who speaks in the name of God. The Bible prophets said many different things in the name of God, but one message they all had in common: they declared that the world about them must be changed. Men, they said, were doing wrong, and must stop it and do right. Accordingly, quiet people, and all who liked the old ways, and men who were in authority, and all who were responsible for the evils of the time, dreaded and hated the prophets. It was not pleasant news that a prophet had appeared in Nazareth. Jeremiah, in the Old Testament, was brought up in a little town called Anathoth, which was inhabited entirely by ministers. It was a place of the priests. Everybody in the street was a minister, or a minister's wife or sister, or a minister's son or daughter. Such a place should have been distinguished for its goodness and gentleness. But when they heard that Jeremiah was setting up to be a prophet, they tried to kill him. The ministers threw stones at him. This helps us to understand what happened at Nazareth. One time in Boston, just before the Civil War, a mob of perfectly respectable people—merchants, bankers, and lawyers—tried to kill William Lloyd Garrison, because he was a disturber of the peace of society. Every prophet disturbs the peace of society. That is what he is for.

So they looked at Jesus as he sat among them, not quite knowing what to think, remembering all his beautiful life but afraid of what he might do next; and when he stood up to read the Bible in the service they listened so intently that they held their breath. So in the stillness he found the place, in the book of Isaiah, and read these words: The Spirit cf the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent one to heal the broken-hearted, 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.  This he read, and gave back the book, and sat down; for in those days the preacher sat when he preached. And he said, "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears;" meaning, "This is true to-day of me. The Lord has sent me to do all this."

At the sound of his voice and in the hearing of these gracious words, they were filled with awe and wonder. But some said, "These are bold sayings for a carpenter. Joseph's son is taking much upon himself." And they remembered how he had been one of them all his life long, and some were his cousins, and some had held the ladder while he mended the wall, and some lived next door to his married sisters and did not like them very well, and some had hired him by the day to do their work. They began to talk together as he spoke, and to interrupt him with questions. Some said in the words of an old proverb, "Physician, heal thyself;" that is, "You speak of doing great things for the nation, but here you are a poor man whom nobody has ever heard of. Make something of yourself, enrich yourself, get yourself accepted by those who are in authority; then come and say these great words and we will listen to you." It was like the first temptation.

To some he said, "It is because you know me so familiarly that you reject me: a prophet is without honor in his own country." And when they cried, "Show us a miracle and we will give you honor," he spoke of famous prophets of the old time, how they had done wonderful works of blessing, not for their own people, but for strangers. Elijah had fed a woman of Sidon during a famine, and Elisha had cleansed the leprosy of Naaman the Syrian.

Finally, they rose up in great anger, and rushed upon him where he sat, laying hold on him with rough hands, and pushing and pulling him got him out of the church into the street. The service was stopped, and the holy sabbath was profaned with their noise and shouting. And one cried, "To the cliff!" proposing that they should cast him down headlong over a steep place. But he looked upon them so that they loosed their hold. There was a light in his face like the sun at noon. They took their hands off in fear, and let him go; and he turned about and walked back through the crowd who stood in sudden silence watching him. Down he went along the street, past the church, past his own house, past the town well, and out of sight.

He never lived in Nazareth again. Indeed, after that, he had no settled home. Once he said, "Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." The worst of it was that his own family turned against him. His brothers did not believe in him. After a while they thought that he was out of his mind, saying one to another, "He is beside himself." One time they all went out, his mother and his brothers, to take him as he was preaching to a crowd of people and bring him home, and somebody said, "There are your brothers and your mother," and he answered, "Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?" And he looked round on them which sat about him, and said, as "Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother."