Thomas Wolfe wrote an incredible story about a man named George Webber. George, our protagonist of the story, writes a scandalous yet, from his perspective, accurate reflection of his experiences growing up in deep-south Libya Hill. Initially, when news of a hometown boy’s story gets published, the town is overjoyed that one of their own is rising into fame. Proud and encouraging, they feel they have participated in some small way with his success since they have been his second grade reading teacher, little league coach, owner of the hardware store where he had his first paying job, and so on. George, too, is surprised that his little story has caught on and has attracted the attention of the great readers, writers, and publishing houses of the day.
I’ll return to George in a minute…
Gospel writer Mark wrote an incredible story about a man named Jesus. Jesus, the protagonist of our story, moves about the countryside preaching, teaching, healing, and leading. He speaks of a kingdom that is beautiful, full of love and peace, and waiting for those who will simply call to God. These Nazarenes are overjoyed that one of their own is rising to fame. Proud and encouraging, they feel they have participated in some small way with His success since they have been His philosophy and rhetoric teacher, His woodworking coach, His geography tutor, and so on. Jesus, too, is surprised when mobs of people follow him through the streets, up the mountains, across the sea just to hear him speak.
Theologian Beverly Zink says, “And here is hometown Jesus, going to the place the teachers and rabbis and prophets would go: the synagogue. Perhaps this is the unexpectedness of the whole event that precipitates the reaction of the people — the fact that the townsfolk are not expecting to see ‘little Jesus’ who grew up around the corner, or ‘Jesus the carpenter’ who had fashioned their tables and benches and fishing skiffs, in the role of the wise prophet of God. Obviously his teaching astounds them… but also strikes a nerve.”
Let’s listen once again to our friend Mark as he writes the story of Jesus returning home and telling how the townsfolk responded to “little Jesus all growed up.” “Many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.”
Jesus is engaging in the same work He has been doing throughout the country. He’s teaching and preaching and healing and leading. He’s a hero to so many. As a matter of fact, just recently He’s calmed the storm, He’s raised a little girl from the dead, and He’s healed the woman with a 12-year bleeding disease. As a matter of fact, the demons that crowd into the Gerasene man blocking the bridge acknowledge the kingship and divine authority better than His own hometown people. Even those demons address Jesus correctly just before they are cast into the herd of swine when they say, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”
And to this response from His own home folk, I can imagine Jesus shaking His head and giving a little snort. Maybe, just maybe, He even rolls His eyes a bit. He says, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” This double negative can be difficult to unwind, but Jesus is essentially saying to beware of hometown people. It’s blunt, I know. But look at what Mark also said: “[Jesus] was amazed at their unbelief.”
I have to ask a question here: Who was Jesus talking to?
If His hometown people couldn’t get passed “little Jesus” coming in to town teaching and preaching and healing and leading, if they were seeing with their own eyes miraculous wonders and continued to think that Jesus was gettin’ too big for his breeches, how were they ever going to understand such a blunt, in-your-face statement couched in a double negative?
Again, I ask the question: Who was Jesus talking to?
He is talking to the twelve. He is talking to the ones He had called and is sending out two-by-two. The lesson He reveals to them is that they will face rejection at every turn, even in their hometown. He shows them that being made powerless in His hometown had nothing to do with His Divinity, nothing to do with His abilities, nothing to do with Him at all! Instead, the fact that “he could do no deed of power there” had everything to do with the people. The people refused to see, refused to have faith. The disciples will recognize themselves in the hometown people. Weren’t they the ones in the boat when it was caught in a storm? And how did they respond? “Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?” And weren’t the disciples with Jesus when He raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead? And how did they respond? They were “overcome with amazement.”
It’s almost as if the disciples are a seeing a mirror image of themselves in the townsfolk while Jesus stands off to the side shaking His head, giving a little snort, rolling His eyes a bit, and pointing to the two groups of people as if they should already know one another.
Returning to Thomas Wolfe and his story of George Webber. By the way, the name of this novel that Wolfe wrote is You Can’t Go Home Again. When the people from the deep-south Libya Hill actually read George’s book about them, they’re scandalized and humiliated and shocked and enraged. (Much like two-slice Hillie Holbrook from the novel and movie The Help.). George comments as he leaves, the squat skyline of Libya Hill in his rearview mirror, “Something has spoken to me in the night…and told me that I shall die, I know not where. Saying: “[Death is] to lose the earth you know for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth.”
Jesus engages in a brutal lesson for His precious friends, these men chosen to carry on the Kingdom work after He is gone. You will be hurt; you will feel alone. But what you feel now must be accepted. The pain and loneliness must be accepted and released so that, so that greater Kingdom work can be done through you. So that you can proclaim Jesus and all repent. So that you can cast out demons. So that you can anoint with oil and cure the sick.
The one cannot happen without the other. In order to do Kingdom work, the disciples had to die to the old life. Just the same, in order that we do God’s work, we have to die to whatever holds us back, whatever illusions we grapple with, whatever dreams we long to see come true.
What are those plans or illusions or dreams? Only you can answer that. But Jesus is standing there waiting, and He’s the only one that walk with you as you bridge the divide from what “was” to “what is to come.”