Nazareth

Terraced vineyard and orchards in Nazareth

Nazarethwas the home town of Mary and Joseph, and the boyhood home of Jesus.  Today it is the largest city in Galilee and nicknamed the Arab Capitol of Israel, due to its population of 72,000 mostly Arabs in the city proper and thousands more in the outlying region. 

But back in Jesus’ day most archeological evidence shows it to have been a tiny hamlet, never having more than 500 people.  There’s not much information available about it before Jesus’ day; in fact, other than being Jesus’ boyhood town it is remarkable for being quite unremarkable.  It rests in a bowl of terraced hillsides that supported olive trees, almonds, vineyards, barley, and sheep.  It’s about 20 miles from Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee, but not really on the way to anywhere.  Basically it was a Podunk town in the middle of nowhere.  When one of Jesus’ future disciples heard that Jesus was fromNazareth, he snidely remarked “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  Yes this is where Jesus spent a quiet childhood learning the trade of carpentry from His stepfather Joseph and being obedient to him and Mary.  It was here His four half-brothers and several half-sisters were born and raised with him also.  Jesus was well-liked in the community, but no one ever expected Him to cure lepers or pull lame men to their feet, as we shall see later. 

Olive press in Nazareth

For that matter the upper region of Israel called Galilee was not a very prestigious place either.  It supported mostly agriculture and fishing at the Sea of Galilee (today called Kinneret).  You would think that God would choose Jerusalem with its center of Jewish culture and great Yeshivas (Jewish schools) or maybe Caesarea, the beautiful Roman capitol on the sea coast with its stately palaces, administrative centers, and huge amphitheater.   No, Jesus and His disciples were from Galilee, an area looked down upon by the afore mentioned cities as being country bumpkins, hicks, and hayseeds.  An equivalent comparison today would be the way a New Yorker would look at a pig farmer from Mississippi with a southern twang in his voice, coveralls, and a straw hat. 

Yet this enraged Jesus’ enemies all the more every time they got into an argument with Him and He invariably cleaned their clocks and exposed their self-righteous hypocrisy before the amazed crowds; they were being shellacked by a country bumpkin whom they couldn’t touch.  And when Jesus came back and preached at His home town at the Nazareth Synagogue, His former neighbors were amazed; “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”  And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith. (Matthew 13:53-58) 

In an argument the religious scribes and Pharisees were having with one of their members who was a supporter of Jesus, they snarled at him “Are you from Galilee also?  Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”  In this they were mistaken and did not know their own scriptures, for seven hundred years earlier the prophet Isaiah wrote; “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali [northern Israel], by way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles…  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.”  (Isaiah 9 1-2)

Hannah the weaver in Nazareth

Joseph and Mary were basically a couple of nobodies from the middle of nowhere, and most of Jesus’ disciples were nobodies, common fishermen and tradesman who God just picked to prove He can use anybody.  How it enraged the religious leaders when after Jesus’ resurrection these same nobody country hic disciples were lifting lame men to their feet and cleaning their clocks in arguments just like Jesus did.  I too was once a poor carpenter and I took great comfort that my Lord once lived a simple life and could relate to the problems and troubles I go through.  It also gives me hope that God can also use me just like he used these other nobodies that simply made themselves available to Him.

-To be continued

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