There were many advantages growing up as the last of four siblings. The main advantage was that I was able to avoid some of the same mistakes my older siblings had made when I became their age.
Another advantage was that being the last of four, there was a lot less pressure on me to always have the best grades. By the time I was born, I think mom and dad were much more relaxed as parents and didn’t have as high expectations for me as they did for the others. Actually, that was a disadvantage to some degree but at the time, I saw it as a huge advantage.
But with all of these advantages, there was one very big disadvantage in being the youngest of four. Most of my teachers didn’t really see me for who I was as a student. They had a tendency to compare me to the educational achievements of my older siblings.
I’m not sure why but that constant comparison did nothing to motivate me to do better in school. I guess it was because I knew that it would be extremely difficult to ever meet those expectations and it made me want to focus on other outlets in my life like sports to help distinguish me from my siblings.
I almost feel like I should be lying on a couch telling you these personal things about my life, like I’m in therapy or something! How much do you charge again?
It also didn’t help that I was often referred to not as “Robert” but as “Norman’s boy” because my dad was an awesome baseball player back in the day and I played baseball. Plus, I looked a lot like him. To this day, when I go back to my hometown, people will still say to me, “You look so much like your dad.”
It’s kind of hard to find your own way when everybody is comparing you to other family members.
We find a similar kind of family comparison going on with Jesus from our Gospel reading this morning. One chapter earlier, we are told that Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. Even at age thirty, the people who knew him from when he was just knee-high were still referring to him as “Joseph’s boy” even though he was now well into his adult years of life.
By calling him “Joseph’s boy” it was like they were limiting Jesus to this one very small aspect of his life as if there weren’t any other dimensions to who he had become. They weren’t prepared to see Jesus in this new light where he was connecting with people in a way they had never before experienced.
It also says something about how they perceived Joseph. To them, he was nobody special so why should Jesus be seen any differently.
And actually, by referring to Jesus as “Joseph’s boy,” they were also putting themselves down because they just couldn’t believe that somebody from their sleepy town was impacting people the way that he had been doing in this early stage of his ministry.
That phrase that they used when they referred to Jesus as “Joseph’s Boy” reveals a whole lot more of how they saw themselves than in their understanding of who Jesus was.
I guess this is just how we’re wired. We tend to only see what we expect to see in others and yes, even what we expect to see in ourselves.
In one of the top selling leadership books entitled, Leadership & Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box, the authors explain how all of us are prone to self-deception in how we see the people around us and what we see or don’t see in ourselves.
The basic premise of the book is that we tend to live in a box where we perceive people based on the faulty assumption that we have all the information necessary to form opinions about people and what we consider to be their inadequacies.
When we are living in the box of our own preconceived opinions about others, we then fail to see them as fully human. The authors in the book say that when we stay in our box, we see others as “objects” which then makes it really hard to work toward forming positive and healthy relationships.
One of the examples given in the book is about a parent who had an 18 year old son named Bryan who never came home on time even though it was very clear what time his curfew was. The parent was in her own box where she saw her son as irresponsible, a troublemaker, and disrespectful. Her son was also in his own box in how he viewed his mother. He could only see her rules as dictatorial, unloving, and overly concerned about how he was using his free time.
The book goes on to say how the parent and the son were both living in their boxes of how they perceived each other. We’ve all been in these boxes and it’s very understandable when we are because these situations can be very frustrating.
The problem is that sometimes we live in the box so long that we fail to see anything positive about the other person. We only focus on what drives us crazy about the other person.
So, one night, Bryan asked for the car keys and the mother told him to be home no later than 10:30. Bryan grabbed the car keys and slammed the door behind him. For the rest of that evening, the mother was focused on the clock. She watched the 10 o’clock news knowing that Bryan only had 30 minutes to get home. Thinking about this only made her angrier toward Bryan.
But then something amazing happen. At 10:29 pm. 10:29, with just one minute left, she heard Bryan getting out of the car and then he walked into the house. To her complete surprise, he made it home by curfew.
You would think this would have been a moment of great joy for this mother. Her son finally came home on time!
Instead, because she had been so anxious that entire evening, when her son walked into the door, she didn’t thank him for coming home on time. She didn’t say how much she appreciated him coming home by 10:30. Instead, because she was living in her box, she made a sarcastic comment, “So, I see that you cut it really close, didn’t you?” As you might imagine, that comment didn’t go over well with Bryan and he stormed to his room.
This illustration from the book reminds us that we are all susceptible in seeing only what we want to see in others or what we think we see in others. It’s easy to stay in the boxes of our own making in how we perceive others.
Now if we stay in these boxes in how we relate to others, think of how the same can be true in how we relate to God. Like the people in our Gospel reading, we too can live in boxes of our own making where we only see Jesus in a certain way. Even though Jesus had been doing some incredible things in this early stage of his ministry, they could only see him with their limited understanding.
As we follow Jesus through the Gospels, we are invited to see Jesus in new and fresh ways. We are invited to step out of our boxes and see him as the one who is the very embodiment of God.
Maybe this is why we have this story from Luke’s Gospel, to help us see Jesus apart from our preconceived notions that we have about him. Maybe Jesus is bigger than my limited understanding. Maybe I have more to learn about who Jesus is. Maybe I need to step out of my box. And when I actually do that, it’s amazing how this can lead me into a deeper faith.
Just four months ago, eleven people were killed by an anti-semitic gunman at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On the day before the first funeral, I remember thinking what a difficult job it would be for the rabbi of that congregation to prepare for those funerals.
Rabbi Jeffry Myers was interviewed by many major news outlets about his thoughts on this tragic event that occurred in his synagogue. He offered these prophetic words to a nation that was turning to this religious leader for answers as we often do in times such as this. Here’s his response just a couple of days after the shooting as he was preparing for the funerals:
“When you speak words of hate, when you speak ill of the other candidate, any words of hate, Americans listen to you. They get their instructions from you,” Myers said, “When you speak words of hate, you say to them, ‘This is okay, you can do it as well.’ Hate is not blue, hate is not red, hate is not purple. Hate is in all,” Myers said. “Tone down the hate. Speak words of love, speak words of decency and of respect. When that message comes loud and clear, Americans will hear that and we can begin to change the tenor of our country.”
Rabbi Jeffry Myers rose to the occasion following that tragedy by modeling for all of us and especially for the leaders of our country what it means to step out of our boxes and begin to see people not as blue or red or purple. We are supposed to be one nation and our words really do matter. People are listening.
I pray for this same fresh perspective to be present for the 1,000 United Methodist delegates who will be meeting at the special General Conference gathering in St. Louis later this month to decide on issues related to human sexuality. Will we each stay in our tiny theological boxes that simply affirms what we think we already know about this issue? Or will we dare to step out of those boxes where we seek to be more understanding, more inclusive, more gracious, and more loving toward all of God’s people?
As that leadership book reminds us and as the Gospels remind us again and again, we are always faced with the decision to stay in the box or to get out of the box. We are always faced with the decision on whether or not we are willing to see Jesus for who he is.
Is he just “Joseph’s boy” or is Jesus truly the embodiment of a loving and gracious God? A loving and gracious God who was willing to become human like us, so much so, that he was even willing to die on a cross for the sins of the world.
And so every time we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, maybe think of it as an opportunity to get out of our box and see Jesus in a new way. See this as an opportunity to set aside our preconceived notions of who we think Jesus is and instead, see him for who he truly is.
We not only know him as Joseph’s boy. We also know him as Lord, Savior, Redeemer, Healer, Shepherd, Friend, and King.
Sermon Discussion Questions
February 3, 2019
In our Gospel reading from Luke 4, people from Jesus’ hometown were amazed at his teachings which led them to ask the question, “Is this not Joseph’s son? Behind this question is a skeptical attitude that God would be able to use anyone from Joseph’s family in such a powerful way.
Have you ever underestimated the power of Jesus to work through you or through a particular situation? Share a time when Jesus surprised you.
In the book, Leadership & Deception: Getting Out of the Box, practical examples are given in how we often put ourselves and others in little boxes where we fail to see ourselves and each other for who we really are. One example in the book is in how a teenage son was always violating his curfew and this frustrated his mother. One night, when her son came home in time, she failed to affirm him because she was anticipating that he would be late again. Sometimes we stay in our boxes where we fail to see ourselves and each other in deeper ways.
Can you think of a time when you felt affirmed and encouraged by someone who was able to see you in a deeper and more meaningful way?
Pastor Robert shared about Rabbi Jeffry Myers who is the Rabbi of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh where the mass shooting occurred this past fall. In one of his interviews, Rabbi Myers encouraged our country to not put people in political boxes of blue, red, and purple and instead see each other as children of God.
What helps you to see someone with whom you strongly disagree as a child of God?
We celebrated Holy Communion this past Sunday where we were reminded that Jesus is our Lord, Savior, Redeemer, Healer, Shepherd, Friend, and King.
In addition to the Sacrament of Holy Communion, what else helps you to remember that Jesus is more than simply, “Joseph’s Boy.”