We started our search for the footprints of Jesus in a
place we knew we would not find them.
Ancient Sepphoris was a small city just across the valley
from Nazareth. The two were separated by only a few miles, but they might as
well have been separated by a few thousand. Sepphoris was entirely Hellenized,
Nazareth entirely Jewish. The
archeological record reveals hardly any interaction between the two towns, and
Holy Scripture makes hardly any mention of Sepphoris. While the two communities
seem to have only their geography in common, there is one other similari ty:
They both claim to be the home of the King of the Jews.
Sepphoris was the first capital of Herod Antipas, son of
Herod the Great, who competed with his brother, Philip, to be the Roman
overseer of the Jewish people – that is, the King of the Jews. (It was to Herod
Antipas that Pontius Pilate sent Jesus for judgment when he realized that Jesus
was Jewish, and it was Herod Antipas who would have taken the most offense at
the sign that Pilate had nailed to Jesus’ cross: The King of the Jews.) Antipas
and Philip competed ruthlessly for the job that the emperor had given to their
father, and an untold amount of blood was spilled in the process.
Nazareth was, as I mentioned yesterday, a town so small
and insignificant that some scholars question its very existence. Nazareth’s
homes were not actually homes at all, but a series of a dozen or so caves in
which its first residents took shelter from the elements. Jesus’ parents were
no friends of the emperor, but unmarried Jewish peasants who had been visited
by an angel.
Some two thousand years later, Sepphoris is in ruins and
Nazareth takes great pride in being the place from which God’s light shined and
shines into a darkened world. Ancient Sepphoris is dead, but Nazareth is full
We found the footsteps of Jesus in Nazareth this
afternoon. We walked through several of the cave dwellings that would have
comprised Jesus’ neighborhood, and began to imagine what it would have been to see
our childlike savior running from house to house. Whose mother’s kitchen
offered the best snacks? Whose courtyard had the most space for playing ball?
As I write this reflection, the sound of children playing and rubber balls
bouncing can be heard echoing through the streets. Nazareth is no imperial
headquarters, it is a small town just like any other.
The Jesus that we will meet tomorrow alongside the Sea of
Galilee is a preacher and a teacher, a healer of the sick and a liberator of
the poor. The Jesus that we met today in Nazareth is a child just like any
other. I often find it hard to believe that God chose to come among us as one
so small, as one so powerless, as one from such humble circumstances. But, he did.
God did an amazing thing in the most unexpected way, and he continues to work
in just that way.