Tag Archives: Jesus of Nazareth

The living water bubbling up in the Nazareth of you.

Nathanael Under the Fig Tree — James Tissot

When Philip told Nathanael about Jesus of Nazareth, he responded “What good can come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46)

That response probably made it into the Bible because Philip never let Nathanael forget the look on his face when Jesus, the Nazarene, revealed who he was with a scripture-filled personal introduction. The fact is, Nazareth, where Jesus lived, comes from the Hebrew word for “branch.” Jesus is the Branch growing out of the stump of the Kingdom of Israel just like Isaiah prophesied. Amazing things grow in surprising places, it would seem.

Nathanael did not see the possibilities resident in the out-of-the way Nazareth. The glory in Jesus had not been revealed to him before he dismissed it. And, as I suspect he soon found out, the faith and character Jesus called out in him that day, although they were hidden under his initial scornful response, could be found in the outlying and hidden places in him, and could be chosen and lived.

Finding living water

Many of my psychotherapy clients and friends are not living out great faith in Jesus, but they can certainly dip their toes in living water if they don’t scorn the unlikely places it can be found in them.

Apparently, one of Karl Jung’s favorites parables touched on this truth. It is about the water of life and how it made itself known, bubbling up from a deep well in the earth without effort or limit. People drank the clean pure water and were nourished and invigorated. But humankind did not leave it at that. Someone eventually fenced the well, charged admission, claimed ownership of the property around it, made laws as to who could come to the well and put locks on the gates. Soon the well belonged to the powerful and the elite. But the water stopped flowing. The thieves were so engrossed in their power systems and ownership that they did not notice the water had vanished. But some dissatisfied people longed for it and searched with great courage until they found where the water bubbled up again. Soon that well suffered the same fate. The spring took itself to yet another place – and this thread winds through the story of humanity. It is a sad story, but the wonder is that the water can be found if one searches.

My clients, and probably you, are on the search. Usually, what quenches our thirst for life and love dries up and we become dissatisfied. Or maybe we have been cordoned off within some fence around a dry well, waiting for a bubbling up that never happens anymore.  Or maybe we have been fenced out from someplace which might have what we need by some powerful elite or thieves. Our angst usually intensifies after we have found our place in society and come to the end of the left-brain logic that makes it such a prison. We feel there is more. But we just can’t get to it.

Many people are like Nathanael who can’t imagine that “more” they crave coming from some  “Nazareth.” Many people fail to find their God-given living water because they are not prepared to search inside, especially in the parts of themselves they disown. Nathanael heard “Jesus of Nazareth” and was sure nothing good could come from there. Jesus looked at Nathanael and saw his heart. This is not always the case, but, as a result, Nathanael quickly looked past his ignorance and scorn and saw who he was meeting, and in that meeting met himself.

The Nazareth within

Psychotherapy is not the only place this happens, of course, but it is one place in which people can begin to explore that “Nazareth” place in themselves, even that place that seems as dead as a stump, and see what might be sprouting.

Most of the time were are looking outward with a face that allows us to fit into our family and society. We’re also looking out because we are afraid of what people might do to us if we don’t! When we look in we often retain the same fearful outlook and just find the elements in us that don’t fit in or don’t make us lovable. The fear we have of others also makes us afraid of what the hidden things in us will do to us if we let them get up into consciousness. In some sense we look at the deep places in us as a “Nazareth” — and what good could come of that? You might not think that way, but a lot of people do. It is easy to hear the rattling of skeletons in our closets. We scorn that Nazareth in us.

During Easter week in 1916, Teilhard de Chardin, the famous Jesuit priest and scientist, was in the middle of the Battle of Dunkirk as a medic. He said as he suffered with the casualties, and as he trembled with the earth when bombs blasted out craters, he felt the Presence of Love being wounded. This would certainly be a strange “Nazareth” in which to meet up with living water! But one of his famous prayers was first prayed at Dunkirk: “I love you, Lord Jesus. You are as gentle as the human heart, as fiery as the forces of nature, as intimate as life itself.”

That moment when you tasted living water

Not all of us could be compared to a psychological Dunkirk! But we have suffered. We carry the wounds of personal conflict and the corporate memory of all the violence that mars history. It is stuffed into places in our hearts and minds we never want to visit. We also have desires and gifts that have also been relegated to “useless” or “despicable,” since they live in the “Nazareth” we are. It hard to accept the wonder at work in us — to see the wells where the living water irrepressibly bubbles up, and drink it.

The missing keys

The other day I thought I remembered leaving the keys to my office in a door as I went to get something from my car. I went and looked and could not find them — not left in any doorknobs, not in my car, my bag, my desk or anywhere in the office! I began to think I was a fool who had let my keys get stolen by someone who would rob the office later in the night (What good can come out of Nazareth?!). So I sat back and prayed, “Lord please help me find my keys.” I immediately scorned my babyish prayer but stuck with it anyway and retraced my steps. I was back out on the sidewalk when someone called to encourage me. As I stood there talking, I looked down and there were the keys in a very unusual place! Should I really see Jesus loving me via an infantile prayer, through a coincidental phone call, in such a Nazareth? Sure! I am searching for the next place the living water is going to bubble up.

That little example is like what my clients are experiencing as they see into what is buried in them looking for something they know is lost but have little hope of finding and feeling a lot of fear about what will happen if they don’t. The little encounter of Nathanael and Jesus shows the disciple getting a good taste of living water even though he initially had no hope in who Philip had met. He thought Jesus was a nothing and it turned out that Jesus showed him how he was not a nothing. May you have such friends who let your scorn pass and turn around and bless you.

Jesus upended Nathanael’s view of himself by naming the wonder in him, also coming from a Nazareth-like place like him! As a result he saw the wonder in Jesus. When we look in ourselves with sadness or shame, we do well to keep looking. In unexpected places we can find light in our darkness. It is very likely in the sadness and shame we will find Living Water looking for us!

Your socks are going to get dirty on today’s march. Keep cleaning.

Life in the Spirit is like cleaning. Clean the inside of the cup, not just the outside you think people can see — stuff a cloth way down in that spiritual “cup” and scrub out that dried crud on the bottom. Don’t do it to because you must be perfectly spotless to be presentable (God help you!). Do it to participate in the cleansing that is freeing us from what gums us up. Cleaning is a big thing to us Jesus-followers. We get good at it. Today is a good day to roll up our sleeves.

Jesus demanded that self-appointed spiritual authorities who opposed him get some cleaning skills even though they thought they were already clean enough.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Matthew 23:25-26

For a great dramatization of this part of the Bible, check out a clip from the famous movie, Jesus of Nazareth. (And yes, I know putting a blue-eyed Jesus in this post is ironic).

I come by my understanding parentally

My parents were big on cleaning, so I am kind of picky about it. I am picky mostly because they were picky about how well I cleaned for them — not because I find some moral purpose in having things spotless! One of my specialties among the family housekeeping chores became cleaning floors. My father, the Navy man who rose to the rank of bosun’s mate, was a passionate trainer of floor cleaners. For him, the use of brooms, even mops was purely preliminary to swabbing the deck. No floor was clean until one got down on his hands and knees and scrubbed. If brushes (down to toothbrushes) were necessary, they should be at hand.

The big lesson in his floor-cleaning class — the thing that separates real cleaners from pretenders, is the art of rinsing. Here is his secret: Even if one doesn’t use soap, the goal is to extract every bit of soapy/dirty water off the floor — get it ALL into the bucket and out the door. (And don’t spill it on the back porch or your mom will slip on it when she gets back from the hairdresser). Do not (under threat of unpredictable repercussions) just spread that dirt around with your dirty mop until there is an even layer of film that makes it look like the floor is clean. If your dad is running around in his socks and undies (which he will be!) the evidence of your sloth will quickly be discovered on the bottom of his socks.

Spiritual cleaning

Floor cleaning may be a subject for me and my therapist. Thorough spiritual cleaning is a good subject for me and Jesus. It is tempting to just sweep the “dirt” here and there in our lives and never get it into the dust pan and out the door. It is tempting to water down our sin and still leave it like a film that no one is willing to call dirty. It is much more challenging to give the floor of our hearts a good scrub, dump the bucket far outside our spiritual house and be ready for living water.

Our relationships, our leadership, our societal obligations often show the effects of random sweeping. We spread more toxic dust with our wifty attempts to appear tidy than we accomplish cleaning, most of the time. It is very challenging to get down on our knees and inspect the floor of our community for the layers of waxy build-up and grime that we have started to think is the actual color of the floor.

Philly street cleaning
Budget cuts make Philly responsible for its own street cleaning.

I hope my metaphor is helping you out. Along with all the personal and communal dirt we should stop spreading around, we should all get out our dustpans and get started on the mess building up around us. The national holiday honoring Martin Luther King is a great day to clean something. I think today should be called “national racism day” or something more descriptive of the dirt on our collective floor. Hordes of people will be out mopping but the sinful grime is likely to be there again next year. The whole country keeps sweeping that sin around instead of throwing it out.

Racism is not just the sin of being mean and depriving people of their rights, as wicked as that is. It is the sin of losing sight of what a clean floor looks like. Behind racism is the sin of imagination-deficit. That’s the sin that makes us blind to what we can do to make a difference, like making a friend with someone who is not immediately likely to be our friend, like letting our anger about societal lies and injustice boil over, like Jesus told certain Pharisees the truth.

I know you have heard this before. But I don’t know why  Jesus is the only one who seems to notice his socks are dirty. Or maybe you do notice, but Jesus is still the one down on his knees rinsing.

Imagine a Clean Floor for MLK

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Matthew 23:25-26 (For a great dramatization, check this out from Jesus of Nazareth)

The “cleaning the inside of the cup” part is on my mind today. One reason for that is that I’ve done a lot of cleaning lately. I had a moment to continue my ongoing cleaning-out of the Shalom House basement the other day – that man had the best stuff buried in the debris he left! I have a construction project going on in my house, so that part of my life is pretty dirty. And Circle of Hope BW just hired a new cleaner (thanks, Lord!).

My parents were big on cleaning, so I am kind of picky about it. That’s mostly because they were picky with my cleaning abilities, not because I find some moral purpose in having things spotless! One of my specialties in the family housekeeping was floors. My father, the bosun’s mate, was a passionate trainer for cleaning floors. For him, the use of brooms, even mops was a purely-preliminary step for swabbing the deck. No floor was clean until one got down on his hands and knees and scrubbed. If brushes (down to toothbrushes) were necessary, they should be at hand. And the big thing, the thing that separated real cleaners from pretenders, was the art of rinsing. Here is the theory for rinsing: Even if one doesn’t use soap, the goal is to extract every bit of soapy/dirty water off the floor, get it ALL into the bucket and out the door. (And don’t spill it on the back porch or your mom will slip on it when she gets back from the store). Do not, under threat of unpredictable repercussions, just spread that dirt around into an even layer that makes it look like the floor is clean. If Dad is running around in his socks and undies (which he will be!) the evidence of your sloth will be quickly discovered.

While floor cleaning may be a subject for me and my therapist, thorough spiritual cleaning is a good subject for Jesus and me. It is tempting to just sweep the dirt here and there in our lives and never get it into the dust pan and out the door. Our relationships, our leadership, our societal obligations show even more evidence of random sweeping. We spread more toxic dust with our wifty attempts to appear tidy than we accomplish cleaning, most of the time. Much more is it challenging to get down on our knees and inspect the floor for the layers of waxy build-up and grime that we can’t see, it is so far under the nose on our face that is so plain. It is even more challenging to give the floor of our hearts a good scrub, dump the bucket far outside our spiritual house and be ready for living water.

I hope my metaphor is doing more than entertaining you. Along with all the personal dirt you should stop sweeping around, we should all get out our dustpans and begins with the mess building up around us. For instance, today should be called “national racism day” in honor of Martin Luther King. The whole country keeps sweeping that sin around. It is not just the sin of being mean and depriving people of their rights. It is the sin of losing sight of what a clean floor looks like. Behind racism is the sin of imagination-deficit. It is the sin that makes us blind to what we can do to make a difference, like making a friend with someone who is not immediately likely to be our friend, like letting our anger about societal lies and injustce boil over, like Jesus. I know you have heard this before. But I don’t know why  Jesus is the only one who seems to notice his socks are dirty.