A Bonhoeffer Advent Reflection: “Nazareth”

The child Jesus returns to the land of Israel, at God’s call. Jesus comes to claim his kingdom and to mount his throne. Joseph brings Jesus first to Judea, where the King of Israel will wait. But a special divine word delays him and commends him to settle in Nazareth. For the Israelites, Nazareth has a scandalous and unpleasant sound in their ears: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 14:6, Nathanael is speaking). Despite this and perhaps because of it, Jesus grows up there: “So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’”

This quotation may prove difficult to understand, because in this form we cannot find it among the prophetic books. We have to learn how to read the biblical text aright. It does not say here that any one particular prophet spoke these words, but that “the prophets” taught. What is meant here, therefore, is that again and again the Old Testament implies that the future King would appear in humility and as one unimpressive. Admittedly, it does not say, “from Nazareth.” The evangelist finds this echoed in certain passage of Isaiah, especially Isaiah 11:1, where it reads that, “A shoot will come up form the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit.” A branch, a shoot, an unimpressive twig, and from his weak stump comes the Messiah of Israel, like a twig. The Hebrew word for “twig” is “nezer,” the same basic form from which the place name “Nazareth comes.

So deeply hidden the evangelist finds the promise in the Old Testament that Jesus would be poor, despised, and lowly. It was for Joseph as for all the world incomprehensible that the little regarded Nazareth should be the destination for the savior of the world. That he should live in poverty, obscurity, and humility was the will of God. With his life of obscurity, despised and rejected, he shares the lot of all the despised of humankind, bearing their sorrows and able to become their Savior (“The Cross Over the Manger” (1940), DBW 15.492-98)

  • JunKi

    Thanks for this post Joel!

    The more I read the Bible the more I realize how poorly the religious leaders at the time of the First Coming understood Old Testament prophecy (maybe I should say the extent to which they misunderstood prophecy). From God’s perspective (the only perspective that matters) Jesus fulfilled what was promised, but most people refused to believe this.

    Do you ever wonder if it will be the same when end times prophecy is fulfilled? Will most people be like, “No! Not ___________ (fill in the blank with any place). Surely God would not do something this important, there!” ?

    Of course, believers should be able to learn from history and not repeat the same mistakes that people made in the past. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the way most people who claim to belong to God act (good summary of this trend in Acts 7:1-53.)

    Does anyone else ever think about (and/or worry about) this?


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