Going back home for a break can be refreshing. It’s a chance to catch up with family and see old friends. High school is far enough in the past for me that this year will be the first time we will have a multi-year reunion. Three classes will meet together. My guess is there will be even more reason to make sure everyone has a preprinted nametag. Hopefully there will be plenty of people I will recognize among the crowd of strangers.
Sometimes going back home can be a great chance to talk about what has interested you or how you’ve begun to think about things differently. It’s also a great chance to learn about what old friends have done, how they’ve grown, or to see what unexpected paths they have taken. Other times, it can feel like no matter what you’ve achieved or been able to contribute to the world, being back in your hometown is like never having left.
Maybe it was something like that for Jesus when he made a trip back to Nazareth. He had accomplished amazing things. He had cured a woman of a chronic disease that had kept her isolated for 12 years. He had lifted up a young girl from her death bed, and she knew life again. He had calmed the wind and the water when his disciples thought they were going to be done in by a chaotic storm.
But now, going back home, stepping into the synagogue where everyone knew him, and speaking to the people he had grown up with, the amazement he was met with was not so much, “what incredible wisdom he has,” but instead, more like, “who does he think he is?” and “where in the world did he get all this?” It’s no wonder after getting this reception that Jesus quoted the well-known aphorism, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own hometown….” Mark tells us in his gospel that Jesus was not able to do any works of great power, only to cure a few people of their diseases.
What it did do was motivate Jesus to send his disciples out to go meet people, tell them about the Kingdom of God, anoint sick people with oil and cure them of their diseases. He was sending the disciples out to do the things he had been doing. He empowered them to do those things even though his power seemed to be diminished by the faithlessness of the people who knew him from the time he was a kid.
The disciples did go. They relied upon God’s power and upon the hospitality and kindness of people who welcomed them. They didn’t look for better places to stay or see who might have a better meal to offer. The disciples encountered people in need. They came back telling stories about the things they were able to do. I expect they were all heartened to learn that in going out in God’s name, they were able to participate in God’s compassion.
Jesus sends out his disciples now to look for people in need and to participate in God’s compassion with them. We might find them close by in our neighborhood, in a hospital room, a temporarily homeless shelter, or in jail. We might find them farther from us along our southern border, in detention centers, crisis shelters, halfway houses or emergency clinics in need of the hospitality God has extended to us. They may be longing for compassionate care, a place to wash their feet or an opportunity to plea for justice. Like the disciples who anointed the sick with oil, we now have the occasion to anoint a stranger with kindness, to offer the warmth of food or quench their thirst with a cool drink of water, to listen to their pleas for justice and to shelter them in safety. God’s compassion leads us to a bigger sense of home and to deeds of great power to heal the world.
Lander Bethel is the minister of Grand Avenue Presbyterian Church in Sherman and First Presbyterian Church in Denison. He earned a doctoral degree in ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Genna, live in Sherman, and have three sons.