What Will the Neighbors Say?

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

December 29, 2019
First Sunday After Christmas
Scripture reading – Matthew 2: 13-23

In this day and age, it is becoming somewhat rare to have good neighbors and to know them all well.  There was a time in our country when this was simply not true.  People knew their neighbors and were often lifetime friends.  Children from different families played together, went to school together, grew up together, and explored the world around them together.  As I said, that has become somewhat rare in our day and time.

My family and I have lived in our current house since 2007, and I can truthfully say that we are only now becoming friends with those around us.  I’m not the only one here who can say that…

So it is not the norm to know what is going on in the neighbors’ homes.

But remember the old expression: “What will the neighbors say?”  Back in that time I have described, this used to be something to consider.  No one wanted their neighbors to think they were odd, strange, unusual, different, or dangerous.  If the neighbors believed any of those things, the community did not thrive as it could have.  The neighbors were more important back in those days than they are now.  I mean…who among us truly cares what your neighbors think of you and whatever you are doing at home?  And how many of you care what your neighbors are doing?

I ask these questions for a reason, and here it is:

Don’t you think it’s a little unusual that Jesus and his family went from Bethlehem to Egypt, back to Bethlehem, and finally to Nazareth…and Scripture tells us NOTHING else about them settling there? 

Let’s remember that Nazareth was a very, very small village in the days of Jesus.  Biblical experts, archaeologists, and anthropologists estimate that no more than 400 people lived in Nazareth at that time.  It is no problem to estimate that most of them were working poor.  Most of them lived very close to one another.  And most of them probably lived their entire lives within just a few square miles of Nazareth.

In such a setting, try to imagine how unusual it would have been for Joseph, Mary, and their baby to arrive in Nazareth and settled there.  Several points can be made here to aid our understanding of this very important detail:

  1. According to Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ family was from Nazareth.  So returning there from Bethlehem was easy…they went there to be enrolled for the census, Mary gave birth while they were there, they stayed to let her recover and to present Jesus in the Temple – as was the Jewish custom – and then returned.
  2. According to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ family was from Bethlehem.  For them to leave and flee to Egypt was not that unusual; anyone encountering them would probably feel some sympathy for them because they were fleeing the madness of their King.  Even the Egyptians would have understood because at that time, they had no love for Herod at all. 
  3. If Jesus’ family returned from Egypt after Herod died and tried to go home to Bethlehem, that would have made sense too.  However, when Joseph discovered that Herod’s son was ruling, of course he felt unsafe!  Fleeing again to another province, such as Galilee, made perfect sense. 
  4. And once again, we encounter the original question: they just showed up in Nazareth, settled there, and lived there for many years…and Scripture tells us virtually nothing about how this could have occurred.

It’s also important that in all their moving around from place to place, Jesus’ family actually fulfilled several Scriptural predictions from the Old Testament.

  • When Gabriel told the Virgin Mary that she would conceive through the power of the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God, that was from Isaiah 7, verse 14.
  • When the Magi came to Jerusalem and asked where the newborn King of the Jews was, Herod’s very troubled experts told him that the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem of Judea.  This was from Micah 5, verse 2.
  • When the angel came to Joseph and told him to flee with his family to Egypt, this echoed what Hosea said in chapter 11, verse 1: “…and out of Egypt I have called my son.”
  • When Herod become enraged and order the systematic murder of all male Jewish children in Bethlehem and the surrounding area, that fulfilled Jeremiah 31, verse 15.
  • Finally, let’s remember the order from Pharaoh to the Hebrew midwives to kill all Hebrew male babies in the days of Moses. Those Hebrew midwives worked around it because they feared God.  This was in the first chapter of Exodus…and it sounds eerily familiar.

So, perhaps the hand of God was at work in all this moving around, all these seemingly random events, and all the details.  This doesn’t take much faith to understand because the God who could form all of creation could also handle the human details of fulfilling previous words from His prophets, while also arranging for the perfect setting for his son to grow up. 

But again…I am still bothered by how easily and seamlessly it seemed for Jesus’ family to settle in Nazareth.  For such a small village such as Nazareth to effortlessly welcome and engrain Jesus’ family into their community took more than just chance.  I think it took some help from someone.

If you wish, you can believe that the Father softened the hearts of the people of Nazareth so that Jesus’ family was welcomed quickly and quietly.  No extra attention was drawn to them… just another workman and his wife and baby son among many others.  Nothing to see here.  Almost like that scene in the original Star Wars movie, the one from 1977, where the good guys encounter the bad guys who are looking for them.  The old, wise Jedi master flicks his hand at the soldiers and says, “These aren’t the ones we’re looking for.”  Then the mindless soldier repeats to his fellow soldiers, “There aren’t the ones we’re looking for” and let’s them go.

You can believe that if you wish.

I prefer something a little less Hollywood: I think Joseph either knew someone or got help from someone who was from Nazareth.  He needed to choose a location that was still within the land he loved, he needed some place where he could make a living, and he needed his family to be permanently safe.

Once they were settled and safe, God’s continuing plan could take the next step: raising Jesus as a Nazarene and a Galilean;  those were two of the labels that most people knew about Him.  Another was as the carpenter’s son; that makes sense too because young men who lived in those days, especially in a small working class town such as Nazareth, were raised to learn their father’s trade.  So even though we have no Scriptural reference to Jesus ever repairing or fixing or building anything by hand, he was commonly known as a carpenter’s son.

In other words, dear friends, Jesus was about as ordinary a human being as anyone else around him.  How do you hide something or someone so it won’t be found?  You hide in plain sight. 

  • For Jesus to live as the carpenter’s son, within walking distance of several big cities that always needed good workmen like Joseph, that would appear normal.
  • For Jesus to live near major trading and traveling crossroads, Jesus would have regularly encountered different languages and people; he would have learned about their lives, their customs, and their languages; pretty normal that he was so well-trained to travel later in his ministry.
  • For Jesus to use so many common sense, every day references in his parables, they occurred enough to make us notice a pattern.  If any of us were to do such things, the questions would arise: How do you know that?  How did you learn that?  Just as my grandmother knew all about farm life because she was raised on a farm; just as I know a lot about teaching because both my parents were teachers; just as some of you know the Bible better than others because your parents took you to a church where the Bible was emphasized; all these patterns make sense, and so Jesus learned from the place and people who raised him.

So let’s go back to the question of the day: what would the neighbors in Nazareth have to say about Jesus?  The answer is probably pretty boring.  They knew him as the carpenter’s son.  They knew him as a neighbor a friend.  They knew his mother.  They accepted his family when they arrived in Nazareth for perhaps many different reasons, but a tight-knit community such as Nazareth would have protected and perhaps even hidden one of their own from anyone and everyone.  After a while, this was not even necessary because everyone knew:

  • Jesus was the carpenter’s son.
  • Jesus was the son of Mary and Joseph.
  • Jesus was a Nazarene.
  • Jesus was a Galilean.
  • Jesus was one of them.

But later…don’t you wonder what those same neighbors had to say when they saw and experienced and heard all the things about their former neighbor’s exceptional life…

I do.