Of Nazareth and Liverpool
1st century Nazareth was held in the same low esteem as 21st century Liverpool. Yesterday the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme described Liverpool as a "shabby old sea-port". The recent award of European Capital of Culture 2008 is seen by many as a bid to improve Liverpool's poor culture, rather than celebrate its riches. Indeed universally, Liverpool's citizens, the scousers, are mocked for their rough accent; their supposed dishonesty, laziness, and lax morality; not to mention their cheap sense of humour.
And 1st century Palestine had a similar scapegoat city - namely Nazareth. The northern, Galilean dialect was scorned by sophisticated southerners. "Your speech betrays you," says an aristocratic servant to Peter, accusing him of speaking in the same uncouth tones as his Master Jesus.
Nathanael expresses the conventional wisdom with a bite of sarcasm. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" He found it inconceivable that the Messiah should be associated with such a disreputable place.
Now, strip away the accent and focus on the words. Don't worry about how this man spoke, rather consider what he said. Amazing things like "Come to me and I'll give you rest from all your troubles" and "I'm the true and living way. No-one gets to God except through me."
Again, forget the background and focus on the person. Jesus of Nazareth, yet he was completely different to the stereotypical Nazarene. This man stood out in every company of people. His dignity, authority and generosity amazed everyone who came across him.
Why should the Messiah submit to such humiliation, to be associated with a "shabby old" place like Nazareth? The
Biblical reason is that He became poor in every sense, in order to make others rich. The poverty of Nazareth (and more importantly, Calvary) mean that people like us can enjoy the riches that freely flow from his life (and more importantly, his death).