Can Anything Good Come from that S#*!hole Nazareth?
Episode 1 – January 19, 2017
Note: This podcast actually says “s!@#hole” – as reported by the media last week. There is swearing. Perhaps NSFW.
Ramona Rox – “Linger” (Cranberries Cover)
Civil Wray – “Crows”
Reading No. 1
Reading No. 2
“Come See” by Joshua Graff
Love for the World
Part of each episode of the Living Presence Podcast will feature a section where we lift up people and places who can use our alliance, our attention and some hope. (If you are from a United Church, this would be similar to “Prayers of the People” or “Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession”).
The idea and our hope are that listeners from all over can send in the people and places they would like to bring to our attention, and I would love it if YOU would consider sending something in to be aired. You can either a) record something with the voice recorder app on your phone and email it to email@example.com OR b) call 289-903-0019 and leave a voicemail OR c) Leave a written comment and I will read it on the air.
THIS WEEK WE LIFT UP:
- The inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women
- The people of East Gwillimbury
- The Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nations
- An 11 year old girl who falsely claimed her hijab was cut as she walked to school in Toronto
It’s not really the main point of this passage, but it’s hard not to compare Nathaniel’s sarcastic question of “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” To some remarks allegedly made by Donald Trump last week. I say allegedly with tentativeness because although Trump denies he referred to “shithole” countries while in a semi-public meeting, based on comments he’s made in the past, he’s not somebody I’m inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to.
Now, if you’re tuning into this first episode with absolutely zero background with the Bible, first of all, I want to say…Amazing! Fantastic! I’m so glad you’re here. Part of the vision for this podcast is that it be a place to explore the intersection of Christian scripture, faith and the secular world, without you, the listener, needing any pre-existing biblical background. We’ll be following a schedule of readings called the Revised Common Lectionary, and I’ll try to give a little bit of background on our passage each week to place the scripture in context. Because context is so very important…
But for any of you listening who are acquainted with the origins of Christian scripture, please feel free to walk away and get a coffee over the next few minutes.
So first…in an incomplete nutshell… there are four gospels, which are really just four different accounts of the man we call Jesus. Sometimes these accounts are the same and sometimes they differ. All of them had an agenda and a specific audience in mind. With the minute possibility of Mark, none of the Gospel writers had ever met Jesus during his lifetime.
The passage Karen read for us this morning is from John, which was the last Gospel to be written, approximately 100 years after Jesus’ execution. John’s telling of the life of Jesus is filled with literary irony, which is hard to pick up in this passage because we don’t have the preceding story to work with.
There’s no birth narrative in the Gospel of John. Instead, it begins with some beautiful cosmic poetry:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
The author of John is trying to make a point here. He wants us to know that Jesus is of and from God…from the beginning of all eternity. He says a little more about this again later to further his point, and then we get to our reading from today, where Jesus is inviting his first followers to join him.
Philip goes to Nathanael and says, “Dude! We’ve totally found the guy Moses and all the others were writing about! You’ll never believe who…it’s Joseph’s kid…from Nazareth!”
“But hold up.” Says Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Except John’s point is that Jesus isn’t truly from Nazareth, or anywhere else on earth for that matter… Jesus is from God, get it?
It’s a little bit like watching the Princess Bride when Wesley shows up to rescue Buttercup from Vizzini (The Sicilian). Slap a mask on him and all of a sudden he’s the Dread Pirate Roberts, and we, as the audience, are sitting there wondering when Buttercup is going to figure it out.
In this case, the reader knows what’s going on but the characters in the story don’t. So the joke is that Nathaniel is talking about Jesus being from some backwards hick town, when John has just gone on about how Jesus is actually, in John’s theology, from God and from the Beginning.
So…there…that’s the joke. But like most jokes, it’s not very funny if you have to explain it.
Nathanael could easily have said, “Does anything good come out of that “shithole” Nazareth?” Nazareth was tiny – even by the standards of the day. About 150 people. It was within reasonable travelling distance to a larger urban centre, but Jesus’ rural, Galilean origins would have been a source of scorn among the privileged class of his day.
Quickly moving forward about 2000 years…
To be clear, the problem with what Donald Trump said – or allegedly said – has little to do with the use of the word “shit”. He could have said, “Why do we want all these people from terrible countries coming here?” and it would still be problematic. Less juicy, but still not okay. As if the people trying to flee so many of the countries Trump alluded to are, themselves, the problem. But as South African writer Warsan Shire so beautifully puts it, “Nobody leaves home, unless home is the mouth of a shark”. But it also implies that countries whose citizenry is mostly made up of non-white people, can’t possibly have educated, skilled workers who will only benefit whatever country they wish to reside in. And this is simply not true. Whether one believes Jesus is the Divine Son of God, or simply a man with a profound vision for how we are be with one another, something good did come out of Nazareth, and many good things come from Haiti, El Salvador and the countries that make up the African Union.
So perhaps when (if) Trump asked, “Why do we want all these people from these awful countries coming here?”, somebody else in the room could have responded like Philip: “Come and See”. Come and see… Come and see what amazing things can come out of a place like Nazareth. Come and see what amazing contributions people from countries in crisis, countries who have struggled, have made to the United States and to Canada.
So much of the Jesus story is about the Spirit being found in places that are least expected. The promised Messiah, who was supposed to liberate his people – comes as a small defenceless baby. He chooses fishermen and tax collectors (the lowest of the low) as his friends and followers. And he’s from some icky, nothing, backwards town – what the United States president might call, a “shithole”. But again, regardless of whether one believes in the Trinitarian version of Jesus’ identity, it’s impossible to deny that the man and the ideas associated with him, have created a lasting impact around the world…
Featured Photo by jamie r. mink on Unsplash
The Living Presence Ministry is a community ministry of the United Church of Canada