can anything good come out of Nazareth?
The Gospel of John opens with someone asking the question “can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Let’s jump back 2,000 years:
Nazareth was located in the Galilee, far north of Jerusalem and just west of the urban, hellenized Decapolis (ten larger Greek cities). But this town did not hold the thick luster of a big city nor the quaint, rustic appeal of a small town; Nazareth was the quiet, poor backwoods of the Roman empire. Archaeologist James Strange estimates that the (almost entirely Jewish) population of Nazareth around Jesus’ time of birth was “a maximum of about 480.” Scholars believe the city was small, ridden with filth, and plagued with 1st century hillbillies.
Nazareth was no Rome, then or now.
And there are many, many modern-day Nazareths. The legacy of this town persists today in every backwoods, forgotten, impoverished village that the empire has left behind. The spirit of Nazareth echoes today in every ostracized and occupied city and country where outsiders are expecting no good thing to come from. Nazareth is Detroit, Rio, Calcutta, Selma, Inglewood.
Nazareth is Egypt, Kazakhstan, Uruguay, Palestine. It’s whatever place the empire has turned its nose in the air and looked away from that bears the battered, resilient spirit of Jesus’ hometown.
Then, as now, we see that Nazareth, to the world, was nothing special.
People weren’t expecting big things.
So maybe it’s not entirely surprising that in John 1, Nathaniel’s first question to his friend Philip upon hearing the Messiah’s hometown is: “Nazareth?! Can anything good come from there?”
Spoiler alert, but yes. Oh God, yes.
I mean, I doubt the inhabitants of Nazareth ever thought they would bear the greatest of their Jewish prophets, the Son of the Living God.
I doubt they thought their name would ever be remembered (long after the collapse of the conquering empire) as the sacred home of God…the Nazarene.
Nobody, including the Nazarenes themselves, thought anything good could come from there. They’d given up hope.
But it is just such a place – just such a run-down, scarcely-known, scoffed-at place – that God Himself chooses to call home.
It’s important to remember that Jesus did not live in a grand palace nor an empty desert, he wasn’t either bequeathing grandiose wealth or meditating alone somewhere among the hidden birds and the trees.
Jesus lived in a community of the least.
My God chose to live among the poor and broken people in a largely-illiterate, middle-of-nowhere village in northern Palestine.
We don’t think about it a lot, but our God tasted not the silver spoon of human luxury in his youth. He was born under incredibly dire circumstances: under foreign occupation, as a refugee, and to teenage parents (in the middle of a genocide!).
The God of Nazareth chose to sacrifice the riches of heaven to experience true humanity! He knew the reality of not knowing where his next meal would come from. The creator of all life literally experienced the pains of diarrhea, the desperation of total abandonment in a garden, and the torture of death upon a Roman execution stake.
This is a God who is not afraid to dive down into the dirt of this world. This is a God who understands, indeed, who has felt our pain.
Sounds kind of crazy, right?
One early Christian writer, a man named Paul, tells us in 1 Corinthians that such Kingdom logic is foolishness to the world.
But as Christians, in Jesus, this lunacy, in some strange way, makes complete sense.
After all, it is such counter-cultural purpose upon which the Kingdom of God itself is founded:
where the Creator becomes a servant of all,
where the rich are to be pitied above the poor,
where we love those who persecute us.
After all, it is just this sort of upside-down Kingdom logic – in which the King of Kings is birthed in a manger – by which the weak shall lead the strong and by which the meek learn to inherit the earth.
It is only upon such a foundation of self-sacrificing love – where God Himself dies – that the poor dare to hope, that the forgotten and the stepped upon may truly rejoice, and by which Nazareth could ever presume to hold such a special place in human history.
That’s the beauty of kingdom logic. It’s never what you’d expect, but it makes some strange sort of sense deep in your bones.
We see it all over the biblical narrative.
Kingdom logic that goes against our every expectation, turning murderers into apostles, forgiving seven times seventy times, and melting our hearts of stone.
It’s the beautifully unexpected, and it’s all over the place in the Jesus story.
Out of death comes a resurrection,
out of the ashes new life shall rise.
Out of slums comes redemption,
out of Nazareth comes the King of Kings.
Kingdom logic pulls the proud into the dirt and exalts the humble and gives dead cities heavenly hope.
So no matter whether you’re in a village or a ghetto or a residence hall or in the suburbs or a backwards little town in Palestine…
just smile and remember that, of all places, something good came out of Nazareth.