OPINION

Pastoral Commentary: Hometown or not, be open to what God has to say

Pastor Mike Neifert
Pratt Friends Church
Stock photo

Many of you reading this grew up in one spot. You know your hometown better than any place on earth. You know everyone and how they’re connected to the next person you meet and how that person is connected to the mayor from the 1970s. You’ve heard Harry at the local café tell the same story a hundred times. You smile and laugh at the appropriate times but pay little attention. Why should you? You could tell it better than Harry by now.

Compared to many who live near me, I’m hometown-less. It’s not that I don’t know where I was born or where I grew up. It’s just that I didn’t live in the same town long enough to make it feel like, if I go to this town.

Honestly, if I went back to the city in which I was born, I’m not sure I could find a single person who knows me. There are probably few in any of the first towns I lived in who would remember me, though they might have a recollection of my parents.

It’s not until the final three places I lived in prior to my high school graduation that I believe I could track down a few friends who would recognize me or at least know my name after I said it. I didn’t, after all, have a scraggly beard or white hair when I left said villages. I was a skinny, geeky kid and then a skinny, geeky teen. I don’t know. Maybe I’ve still got enough skinny, geeky left to trigger some kind of memory.

About 17 years ago, I returned to the town where I lived when I graduated from high school. I was there for a class reunion and a reunion concert of a teen choir I was in with my siblings and dozens of others at our church. It was fun to see folks I hadn’t seen in decades and talk with them and sing with them. The presence of my siblings and I didn’t create much of a stir in this small Iowa burg during our four- or five-day stay. Someone more famous from a town far, far away would’ve created more buzz than the three of us did.

Jesus, at the end of Matthew 13, making his way back home after some time away. His arrival creates far more waves than you or I or anyone we know would ever make. Folks young and old have heard of his exploits. They want to see if there’s any truth to the rumors they’ve heard. Is the skinny kid who left a while back really as big of a deal as people make him out to be in their stories?

Here’s the story from Matthew 13:53-58.

When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they 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.

The folks in Jesus' hometown were offended by him. When they heard him speak, they were soon asking derisively, “Who’s this punk kid coming back here to tell us what to do?” Maybe someone brought up the crazy birth narrative Mary had given them when she was pregnant with Jesus. Perhaps the stigma of his seeming illegitimacy played a part in their rejection.

We can speculate on the whys and wherefores, I suppose, but in the end, they don’t matter much. Jesus finds a staggering lack of faith in the village he grew up in. He did a few miracles, but not as many as perhaps he’d like to have done. Only a handful of people had enough faith to trust him, to trust God, with their needs.

Perhaps we should take heed and recognize our own tendency to discount words from God when they’re spoken by someone we’ve known for years. We’re more likely to accept a message from someone far from us who doesn’t know us than we are from a friend or family member. The Spirit is in each believer, and we can hear from God through anyone who knows Jesus, so let’s be open to what God has to say to us through whomever he sends to speak it!

If your kids are believers, let God speak through them to you. If your grandfather has been faithful to God for many years, pay attention to what God may be saying to you through him. That friend whom you’ve known for years, who accepted Christ years after you did, may now be God’s mouthpiece to you.

Listen to all who speak and see if God may have a message for you from those who are familiar and close.