People seem to have an issue with my accent.
See, I grew up in Dudley, but I was born in Derby, and so everyone feels the need to comment on my accent as if I’ve just descended from the icy moon of Europa than 40 miles down the A38. And I’m hardly the victim if some horrendous hate crime here, but when people start dissing my accent in Dudley then, well, it gets a bit frustrating.
There are echoes of this is Nathanael’s response to the suggestion that he should go and meet Jesus of Nazareth: “Nazareth?! Can Anything Good Come From Nazareth?!” He’s soon shut up by an encounter with Jesus himself, but the point still stands – this boy from Cana has issues with folk from a neighbouring town. Maybe that tells us something about Nazareth itself – was it a town of hicks and hayseeds? Was it the sort of place from which characters in a Springsteen song would plot their escape? Did people mock the Nazarene accent? Did people mock Jesus’s accent?
There’s a harsher angle on this though. Nathanael’s attitude reflects our modern attitudes: can anything good come from deprived neighbourhoods, deindustrialised cities and shanty towns, favelas and barrios? Or are they simply havens for poverty, crime, despair and hopelessness?
Our answer to this will affect how we respond to places like Nazareth, whether or not our churches seek to emigrate to them or simply colonise them with an attitude of superiority and supremacy. And in doing so we forget that this is the sort of place in which Jesus grew up, in which he spent 18 years on building sites and in workshops, in which he hung out with friends and neighbours and aunties and uncles.
And so Nathanael’s comment, and Jesus’s incarnation into the margins rather than into the heart of Jerusalem should lead us to ask where the good already is in the places we may have write off, where the Holy Spirit is already at work, where the Kingdom is already built.
Because when God walked the earth in human form, he didn’t ignore the impoverished places, he grew up there; he didn’t mock the one-horse towns, he lived in them; he didn’t invade or colonise, he inhabited. And that should be our attitude as well, because otherwise, in our snobbery and our privilege, we may miss all the good that emerges from the Nazareths of this world.
And leave my accent alone!