In the the 1st chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus is calling the first disciples. When Jesus called Phillip, from Peter and Andrew’s hometown, he seems pretty excited. So excited that he goes and finds Nathanael and tells him: “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael was not very impressed at the news. He responded to Phillip saying:
“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Nazareth is a small town that was never mentioned in the Old Testament. It was the home of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. But there was nothing special about Nazareth. It was near trade routes, but not particularly close enough to bring any real wealth. In Acts 24:5, followers of Jesus are called “Nazarenes” in what sounds like a derisive way.
Let’s put Nathanael’s question into our 2018 context: “Can anything good come out of a shithole like Nazareth?”
Of course, this is a similar to what President Trump recently said when he wondered why we’d accept more immigrants from “shithole” countries like El Salvador, Haiti, and countries on the continent of Africa- instead prefering immigrants from a place such as Norway. The racism in the comment isn’t even subtle. Trump would rather have immigrants from a predominantly white country such as Norway than the predominantly black and Latino/a countries of El Salvador, Haiti, and the nations of Africa.
When we start calling nations, cities, and towns shitholes- we show our hand that we believe that the only thing that can come from that nation, city, or town is shit. This sort of thinking is decided not Christian. It is racist. There can be no room in the heart of a believer to look at people and think of them this way.
As followers of Christ, we must speak against language, attitudes, and ideals that denigrates other human beings. The Bible is clear that all people are “made in the image of God.” Because we are made in God’s image, each person has sacred worth. We are not any better (or any worse) than our neighbor because of where we live, whether we are living in poverty or wealth, whether our skin is dark or pale, whether we are male or female. In the eyes of God, we are loved and have sacred value. As followers of God, we are too see all people the way that God sees them and treat them accordingly.
Andrea and I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel to some places that look much different than our home in the States: Andrea has spent time in Kathmandu, Nepal and Kolkata, India working among the poorest of the poor. We’ve been to Brazil, Paraguay, Guatemala, and China. We’ve been among the poorest people and those who would be considered more wealthy. One thing that we have seen in every place that we go is the beauty of the people and the divine image that is etched in each life. We have experienced the Church in these countries and seen the heart of God beating in each place. Even those who lived in a poverty that I could never imagine radiated the presence and love of God in their contentment, their prayers, and their faith.
So what good can come out of a Nazareth? Jesus, the Son of God.
What good can come out of a like Haiti? El Salvador? Nations of Africa? It would take a long time to list the accomplishments and the good that has come from those places- as well as beauty of the people in each of these communities. The growth that we see in the Church (globally) is happening in places like Africa, and in the Global South (including places like Central and South America). One day, THEY will be leading the singing around the throne of God. I look forward to joining them there.