The story is told about a judge who had been frequently ridiculed by a conceited lawyer. When asked by a friend why he didn’t rebuke his assailant, he replied, “In our town lives a widow who has a dog. And whenever the moon shines it goes outside and barks all night.” Having said that, the magistrate shifted the conversation to another subject. Finally, someone asked, “But judge, what about the dog and the moon?” “Oh”, he replied, “the moon kept on shining – that’s all.”
Most of us have sayings that we tend to use when the situation is appropriate. I mentioned one proverbial saying in my previous message: “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” Other sayings that come to mind are: “Birds of a feather flock together”, “That’s the way the ball bounces”, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”, and the one I used as the title for this message (“Familiarity breeds contempt.”) Do you have favorite sayings that you use, or that come to your mind?
The Lord Jesus and His disciples have left Sychar, Samaria after the revival that occurred there, and they are headed north for the region of Galilee. As verse 43 says, “And after the two days He went forth from there into Galilee.” What follows in verse 44 is a proverbial saying that Jesus gives to His disciples. “For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.” It is significant that those words spoken by Jesus (“A prophet has no honor in his own country“) are recorded in all four Gospels, and may have been said at different times and with different results. The other three passages of Scripture where those words are recorded are Matthew 13:54-57, Luke 4:21-24, and Mark 6:1-4. Those three passages of Scripture give us more information, and a better understanding of Jesus’ reason for using that phrase, so we will be studying all three passages of Scripture and bringing all that information together. I think that there is much that we can learn and apply from those few words that Jesus may have repeated to them several times. Studying all four passages may also answer our questions and explain the “mystery” behind those repeated statements.
I. “A PROPHET” (John 4:44a)
When He said those two words (“A prophet”), Jesus was asserting that His proverbial saying has been true of all the prophets of God. Is there any evidence to affirm this? We see many cases in the Old Testament where the people of Israel tried to kill the prophets. So we see that Jesus’ saying did occur. The prophet Jeremiah, however, agrees with the Lord Jesus and puts his experiences into words, in Jeremiah 12:19, describing what his own people, the people of Judah, were trying to do to him. “But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; and I did not know that they had devised plots against me, saying, ‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit; and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.’ “
One of the prophets who may have been scorned because of his profession was the prophet, Amos. He is described as being a farmer and a grower of sycamore figs. I can hear their jeers in my mind: “Amos? Isn’t he the farmer? What makes that fig-picker think he has the right to tell us what to do?”
The Lord Jesus refers to Himself as a prophet, and He is a prophet. But He is also much more than a prophet. He is the Messiah, the Son of God, whose coming was predicted by the Old Testament prophets and by His forerunner, John the Baptist. He deserved not only honor but also worship, adoration, and obedience.
II. “HAS NO HONOR IN HIS OWN COUNTRY” (verse 44b)
Here in John’s Gospel, these words are not given as a direct quote from Jesus, but as a reference to a quote made by Him. As they are passing by or passing through the city of Nazareth on their way to Cana in Galilee, those words of Jesus come back to John’s mind. John may be saying those words as an explanation for why Jesus did not stop there, or spend any time in Nazareth as they were passing by it on this trip.
In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels, this saying is given as a direct quote from Jesus, and the settings and reasons for His response are also given. Luke’s Gospel reads: “And He came to Nazareth where He had been brought up . . . . went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day . . . was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah . . . ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’.” Their response: “Is this not Joseph’s son?” That’s a snide remark if I’ve heard one! “How can Joseph’s son from our own community dare to make the claim that He is the Messiah?” Beside the fact of the family’s low income, there may also have been the rumors that Jesus was an illegitimate child because of the virgin birth. That’s the way it is in some small towns, even in that day! When Jesus reminds them that the prophets Elijah and Elisha performed miracles for Gentile people outside the nation of Israel, the people of Nazareth try to throw Jesus off a cliff! (Luke 4:16-30)
III. HIS OCCUPATION AND FAMILY (Matthew 13 and Mark 6)
In Matthew 13:54-57, just before Jesus quotes that proverb, the Gospel writer Matthew records these words: “And coming to His home town He began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they became astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man all these things?’ And they took offense at Him.”
Notice that twice they address the Lord Jesus as “this man”. He’s a “home-town boy” and yet they won’t even address Him by His name! They’ve also added more ammunition to their insults! They won’t mention His name but they mention the names of His family members. I call this tactic of theirs “guilt by association”. They can’t find sin or imperfections in Jesus’ life and character so they mention the names of all His family members. They can recall sins and imperfections in their lives, so Jesus must be the same way since He’s one of the family, and sinfulness “runs in their family”, so to speak!
As bad as those insults are in Matthew’s Gospel, it gets even worse in Mark’s Gospel. A couple more insults are slipped into the conversation and one of them is the worst insult of them all! Mark 6:3 says, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon?” They call Jesus a “carpenter”. This is the only place in the Bible that refers to Jesus’ occupation before beginning His public ministry. The Greek word is tekton, and we get our English words “technical”, “technician”, “technique”, and “architect” from forms of that word. He was basically a handyman, working with wood, stone, and metal to build whatever needed to be built and fix whatever needed fixing. He worked hard, got His hands dirty, and is an example to all who are in a trade, in the construction business, or in technical professions. In Matthew 11:29-30, Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.” The literal Greek says, “MY YOKE FITS WELL”. As a handyman/carpenter, the Lord Jesus must have built many yokes for oxen. I’m sure that farmers from miles around asked Jesus to come, measure, build and fit yokes for their oxen because He did the job so well – 100% satisfaction guaranteed!
But His profession was looked down upon by the rabbis and leaders. They despised Him because He was a working man. But their worst insult follows right after his occupation. They called Jesus “the son of Mary”. A man was never described or addressed as the son of his mother, even if she was a widow. It was intended by them to be an insult, stating that He really was an illegitimate child. This time their intent was clear. Now the apostle John’s words in John 1:11 ring out loud and clear: “He (Jesus) came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.”
Criticism seems to be a favorite pastime among many people in this day and age. The temptation to compare and criticize is always present, asking for permission to pass from our minds to our mouths. Here is one example. Two taxidermists stopped before a window in which an owl was on display. They immediately began to criticize the way it was mounted. Its eyes were not natural; its wings were not in proportion with its head; its feathers were not neatly arranged, and its feet could be improved. When they had finished with their criticism, the old owl turned his head . . . and winked at them!
The two specialists thought they were criticizing the owl’s taxidermist when in actuality, they were criticizing the owl’s Creator! It’s easy to criticize from the outside, looking in. Why not go inside, leaving your prejudices and your biases behind, and view the real thing from all sides and angles, having all your questions answered. Your perceptions might change drastically!
If we are children of God through saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are going to have critics, especially among unsaved family members. But we ought to live in such a way that no one will believe our critics and pray that someday, by the grace of God, our critics won’t believe their criticisms of us anymore either.
May we be so deeply rooted in the Word of God and so closely tied together in our fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ and obedience to Him, that the winds of criticism won’t take us off-course, no matter how strong they blow and no matter which direction they come from. May we continue to shine like the moon in spite of all the “howling and barking” that goes on when we are present.