Seamus Heaney. Wendell Berry. William Wordsworth. Robert Frost. In my childhood exploration of words and books, I discovered these poets weaving tapestries of grandeur with the homespun yarn of the mundane. They unearthed to me the vastness of space in the soil beneath their toes and the glorious weight of people, time and place in the familiarity of walls, wheelbarrows, and water. Recently I opened a book of prose that paints a similar picture of the practical and profound. Reading Zack Eswine’s Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being has been the literary counterpoint for me to enjoying an oyster roast in the Lowcountry. A salty, slow, sleeves-rolled-up, laughing, digging, communal process. While I linger at this banquet of simple words and compelling truths, I’d like to share with you a Lenten reflection from Eswine.
Simply, our Savior had a hometown. Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Man, is Jesus of Nazareth. For all his three years of wandering, he spent 30 years in Nazareth. First playing, then working, all the while breathing Nazareth air, walking the same roads, lingering over familiar conversations, and smiling at old friends. I have been rather waylaid by this realization, that God chose to spend 90% of his time as a human on earth in one tiny, unimpressive town. I cannot fathom a sense of that locality. I identify with the migrants Salman Rushdie describes in The Location of Brazil, the “people who root themselves in ideas rather than places.” In a simplistic way I can explain the phases of my life thus far through two questions. First, “Where am I from?” and more recently, “Where am I going?” I’ve answered neither. I can’t count the times I’ve echoed the cries of Isaiah and implored God, “I’ll go anywhere you want me. Here am I Lord; send me!”
Lately the thought has struck, “What if I’ve already been sent?” Jesus has set the example again, calling me to live out a homeward bound life in the home I have now. Homeward bound to heaven and the fullness of my God’s redemption and presence. Jesus was always mindful and pursuant of his eternal purposes (Luke 2:41-52, Mark 8:31-38) and calls me to the same. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35, ESV). But the carrying of my cross is far more limited and placed than I have imagined it. As Eswine says, “‘To take up one’s cross’ is to let a particular tree press upon our actual shoulders, on a local road within a particular community. This seems like death, and it is – death to one’s self… When sacrifice requires limits and locality, great mountains somewhere else seem to offer fewer challenges and more glories” (Sensing Jesus
, p.65). I am reluctant to “condescend to locality” as Eswine puts it, to admit that the glory of eternal redemption is worked out in the practicality of this moment and place. Yet the Son of God condescended to our locality and limitations; he works out his glory and grace here. He did in Nazareth, he did in his 3 years of ministry, and he does again with me now. He reveals his transforming love and eternal purposes in my everyday activities and places. “His ministry is revealed at tables with food, with ordinary and diverse people in the marketplace, and in the intimacy of daily friendship…The cross of Jesus does not free us from loving God and neighbor in a particular place; it recovers us to value this idea of greatness again” (Eswine, p.43). This is our calling, to receive God’s redemption of the mundane in a particular place and among a particular people, and it invites this restless, self-ambitious nomad to both humbling submission and unknown peace. Jesus answers both where I am from and where I am going with this simple injunction. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your soul” (Matthew 11:29, ESV).