by Katy Lines
Sometimes, you think you know someone, and they end up totally surprising you. I recently read a story about a farmer, Hody Childress, in the little town of Geraldine, Alabama, who’d been secretly donating to the local pharmacy to assist with his neighbors’ prescriptions. One neighbor was a 15-year old boy whose family couldn’t afford an EpiPen. The cost was covered by an “anonymous donor.” This went on for over 12 years, neighbor after neighbor. And although the town of Geraldine is filled with neighbors who help one another, no one knew who had been assisting with prescription bills. The community only learned that Mr. Childress was the kind donor after he passed away last month. Just before passing away, he shared his identity with his daughter and asked for her to carry on his contributions.
Sometimes you think you know someone, only to discover you’ve been ignorant about who they really are. Sometimes, in the case of Hody Childress, that revelation is good news— one of our own has secretly been caring for us! And sometimes, in the case of Jesus visiting his hometown, the new knowledge is offensive. It’s not like the Nazarenes suddenly discovered Jesus was a serial killer, but rather, Jesus’ “good news” trips them up. His good news requires something of them.
Jesus came back for a visit to his family, his neighbors, his local congregation. He shares deeds and words, perhaps like his first message in his hometown, recorded in Luke 4:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll… and he began to say to them,
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Or, in Matthew’s gospel here, Jesus more likely shares the parables we’ve been spending time with recently— parables about the great value of God’s reign, and our desire (or lack of desire) to participate in God’s ways. What the hometown crowd can’t get past though, is their skepticism due to personal knowledge— their condescension that “we know you, and you’re not capable of great things.”
This person so familiar to Nazareth says and shows his neighbors something so out of character from what they expect, that they just can’t wrap their heads around him. “This was the kid I babysat.” “I remember changing his nappies.” “Remember when, in school, I recited from the Torah faster than he did?” Their limited perception of Jesus prevents them from receiving what he was offering to all of them and beyond: good news to the poor, freedom for the enslaved, sight to the blind, release for the oppressed. A way that costs everything, but brings about the healing of all things.
I sometimes wonder if we, too— me, too— have such an expected perception of Jesus that we miss who he really is. That sometimes, scripture and Bible stories becomes so common that we miss the transformative good news Jesus brings. I know that growing up, there was a particular way I was taught to understand Jesus, his life, death, and what he did for me. But to start looking at Jesus with outsiders eyes, I see his life, dreams, desires, death, risks, words— way— as so much bigger than just me! Jesus— God’s very embodied self— is expressing something so much bigger… all creation healed! Every. Single. Thing. And I think it’s tempting and comfortable for me, so familiar with the story, to make Jesus too small, belonging to me, understandable and someone I can wrap my head around. “He’s our hometown boy. We know what he’s capable of.”
Sometimes, for those of us who’ve been “Christians” and part of the church our whole lives— like the Nazarenes watching Jesus grow up— maybe we need new eyes to see him as outsiders might, with words that are new, refreshing, and life-giving. Maybe we need to release our limited perception of Jesus and let Jesus himself, like an experienced craftsman, draw us into his comprehensive way.
It's risky. The problem with letting Jesus speak for himself, is that he challenges and convicts those of us who think we’ve got him figured out. And when Jesus is uncontrollable, powers and principalities are threatened. The status quo is fractured. And, as we’ll see next week with John the Baptizer’s murder, not everyone embraces Jesus. Most of us stumble over him.
Hody Childress’ secret generosity has inspired others to donate to their local pharmacies as he did. But we haven’t seen Hody’s ways dismantle big pharma and high-cost prescriptions, nor crush systemic poverty that prevents households from affording health. It’s a surprising story of an ordinary man’s kindness to his neighbors— good news! But Jesus’ ways— the emerging kingdom— are subtly and powerfully transforming and reconciling all things.