Where Are You From?
Most people think that success in certain industries can only happen in certain places. Think of New York, Nashville, and Los Angeles. If you want to be a top notch musical stage actor, New York is the place to be. This is so true that the street where these stage plays take place has become a synonym for the industry. If someone says they want to be a Broadway actor, they mean they want to do a certain style of live theater. However, technically Broadway is the street best known for the theaters that do that style of stage plays.
I live in a small town in East Texas, and I have a handful of family members who are involved in theater education. There is an endless parade of students who come through my brother-in-law’s college theater program who want to be either famous live theater or screen actors. My brother-in-law, the head of the theater department at Kilgore College, still takes on roles in professional live theater when his schedule permits. He’s done work in a number of different theaters, including the Globe in London, the famously rebuilt theater of Shakespeare. He’s reported that he often has had people ask him if he plans to move to New York to try and make it big on Broadway.
For film actors, the same thing happens. The part of Los Angeles known as Hollywood has become a word equivalent to screen acting success. I worked for about seven years as a filmmaker. I made documentaries and short films, along with a handful of full-length narrative movies. Throughout the time I was doing this professionally, I lived in a ridiculously small town in East Texas. It never fails, when I told people what I did they would always say, “are you going to move to Hollywood?”
Being from a small town, and “making it big” don’t go together in the minds of most people. If you are going to achieve success in the eyes of the public, the expectation is that you live and work in the capital of your craft. If you’re a country music artists it’s Nashville. If you’re a stage actor it’s New York. If you’re a filmmaker it’s Los Angeles. If you’re a Jewish religious leader, it’s Jerusalem.
Even Jesus got the ‘Hollywood’ comments. His brothers once said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so Your disciples can see Your works that You are doing.” This is basically the same as those who say a musician should be in Nashville or an actor in New York. They couldn’t conceive of an important person being from a nowhere place like Nazareth in Galilee. They continued to try and pressure Jesus into going to Judea, which was the province that Jerusalem was located in.
Furthering their case, they said, “no one does anything in secret while he’s seeking public recognition. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” They claim that Jesus can’t be a success if he stays in such a hillbilly backwater place.
Galilee was surrounded by non-Jewish states. That’s why it was sometimes called, ‘Galilee of the Gentiles.” The name implied that it was a Godless, backward spot. However, the superiority that the Judeans felt toward the Galileans was largely unfounded. The Jews from Galilee were generally very observant of the laws.
I suspect, as often is the case, that the elitist mentality of Galilee was largely due to jealousy. Luke 16 tells us that the Pharisees loved money. It turns out that Galilee was prosperous. It had been resettled by a number of Jews about 100 years before Jesus’ time. People were drawn to the region in part because of its fertile soil and adequate water. The plains of lower Galilee produced ample grain and the mountains of northern Galilee were known for their olive groves.
Judea, on the other hand, was fairly arid and dry. It was more difficult to grow food in the south where Jerusalem was located. It’s easy to see how those from the dry south could construct jealous stories of the ungrateful wealthy in the north. The Pharisees, who coveted money, likely preached against those who didn’t donate their fair share to the synagogues. It would be easy for those in the religious center of Judea to look down on their wealthier cousins in the north.
Add on top of this, that those from the Galilee had a bit of a draw. I’m from Texas. Not only that, I’m from deep East Texas. When I travel, I often get comments about my southern accent. I talk a little slower, draw out my words a little more, and flatten my vowels, or so I’m told. Although most aren’t honest enough to say it, the southern accent is associated with less education, inbreeding, and general stupidity.
The same was true for those from Galilee. They had an accent that gave them away. Jesus is no except to this. He would have had a Galilean accent that sounded less refined to the ears of those in Judea. All of Jesus’ disciples, except for Judas Iscariot, were from Galilee as well. So they would have likely seemed like a bunch of hillbillies to the Judean teachers of the law. Hearing Jesus teach in the temple might have sounded like a country hick anchoring the nightly news. It just didn’t fit.
It’s for these reason that the Pharisees and the teachers of the law said things like, “Look into it, and you will see that no prophet comes out of Galilee.” They couldn’t even conceive of a situation where a prophet might come from such an uneducated podunk place. When Nathaniel, sometimes called Bartholomew, first heard about Jesus, he said, “can anything good come from Nazareth?” This was a sentiment shared by most. Hailing from the backside of nowhere excluded Jesus from being anything good. It goes deeper than that, though.
Nazareth was like Evadale, TX. Oh, you’ve never heard of Evadale? That’s my point exactly. It’s a town in the south part of the state with a population of about 1400. It has no college or university. It has hardly any jobs. Most residents drive to neighboring towns for work. Now, imagine a construction worker from Evadale running for president. This construction worker had the equivalent of a high school education and then worked various construction sites around town until he decided to hop on the ballot. When he speaks he sounds like a hick. Everyone makes comments about his boots and cowboy hat, but he doesn’t seem to mind. On the campaign trail, he drives an old Chevy truck from the 80’s. He’s got a team of about a dozen other good ole’ boys that follow him around. When people ask him about the issues, he has great answers, but they are not the answers that the politicians in D.C. would give.
Now imagine that this country boy from Evadale begins to gain a following. Not just a following but a loyal hoard of underdogs who are tired of the status quo. You can imagine how Washington would start to squirm as this Evadalian drew closer to their seat of power. In some ways, that is what Jesus was like to the power brokers in Jerusalem.
The religious elite expected the Messiah to come from Bethlehem in Judea. That’s only a few kilometers outside of Jerusalem. Their most famous king, David, tended his sheep in that small town when he was young. In fact, that’s where he was anointed as king. This left a lasting expectation in the minds of the people. They expected their future king to come from Bethlehem. Not in the least part because one of their prophets had told them so.
One time Jesus healed a blind man. The blind man was dragged into court because the leaders were trying to trap Jesus. The judges scolded the previously blind man for believing in Jesus. Their defense against Jesus was, “We know that God has spoken to Moses. But as for this man, we don’t know where he comes from.” Their point was that, when the Messiah comes, they expected to know where he came from, which was Bethlehem. Anyone who didn’t come from Bethlehem couldn’t be the Messiah because that’s what the prophecy had foretold. They never considered that they could be wrong about their interpretation.
The man who had been healed gave a brilliantly sarcastic reply which shows more wisdom than all of the well educated religious leaders. He said, “This is an amazing thing. You don’t know where He is from, yet He opened my eyes!… Throughout history no one has ever heard of someone opening the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He wouldn’t be able to do anything.” His logic is sound, and his reasoning impossible to overturn. He’s basically calling them out on their thick-headedness. It’s as if he’s saying, “Are you really so dense that you are willing to refuse the Messiah, because he’s not from the town you expected him to be from?”
The prophet Micah said, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” If Jesus was going to prove himself to be the Messiah to the religious mucky-mucks then he would have to show that he came from Bethlehem. As far as the crowds knew, Jesus was a construction worker from Nazareth, Galilee. Those that were close to him knew the truth, that he was born in Bethlehem.
Later in Jesus ministry when he finally began to focus his efforts on Jerusalem, there was a running line of questions. The religious leaders, more than once, tried to pin him down on where he was from. He refused multiple times to answer them on their own terms. He could have easily told them what they wanted to hear but that’s not what he did. Once he said, “I know where I came from, and where I am going, but you don’t know where I came from, or where I am going.” This was an ongoing discussion up until the last week of Jesus’ life.
When they challenged Jesus on his hometown in Galilee he could have easily said, “I was born in Bethlehem, you dummies,” but he didn’t. Instead, he let them continue thinking that he didn’t fulfill the criteria for Messiah. I think he let them continue in their misunderstand because he knew that the real problem wasn’t where he was from. The real problem was that they ‘refused’ to believe no matter what. If he had dissolved their ‘hometown’ argument, they would have fabricated some other reason why he was unfit to be their messiah.
Jesus explains the real problem to them as one of these arguments was happening. He said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” He shows that it’s not important from what town he came to us, but instead, it’s important that we come to him to have life.