“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” -John 1:36
Soldiers drove wooden stakes into the crevices of walls throughout the city, lit them, and waited for the heat to burst the limestone bricks. Smoke rose from the hill for days as survivors from the massacre were dug from the rubble, shackled, and marched off to be sold as slaves.
All this punishment for the crimes of one man. Sepphoris was the administrative center for the Roman government in Galilee. Judas, a local troublemaker, broke into the Roman treasury there, stole money and weapons, armed his small gang and led a revolt against the Romans who quelled his rebellion by burning Sepphoris to the ground and selling the survivors – men, women, and children. The year was 4 BC.
Imagine you were born in Manhattan in 2001. While you wouldn’t have witnessed the attack on the World Trade Center that year, you would have grown up hearing the stories of that day. You would see the gap in the New York skyline, pass by the memorial to those stolen by the violence of terrorists. You would no doubt know people who buried loved ones that September. An event you didn’t live through would mark your life.
Jesus grew up in the small town of Nazareth – no more than 150 people, ten to twenty families on a hilltop. A nothing little city of no consequence, not even mentioned in census and other government documents from the first century. Jesus lived in the shadow of Roman violence, on the hill next-door to Sepphoris, less than three miles from ground zero.
Jesus’ stepfather, Joseph, worked as a tekton – that’s the Greek label for a wide variety of skilled laborers: builders, craftsmen, and architects. A small town like Nazareth wouldn’t have provided much work for Joseph (and Jesus, if he worked alongside him).
But there was work in Sepphoris. After the destruction of the city, lengthy reconstruction began. The new residents of the city were wealthy aristocrats who supported Herodian rule. They created a religiously diverse and cosmopolitan community that boasted the only theatre and the best shopping in the region.
Did Joseph feed his family by cutting the tiles used to create the ornate mosaic floors here? Did Jesus’ fingers place each one hour after hour, day after day?
Did Jesus and Joseph hoist the columns into place that supported stores and homes in Sepphoris?
Did they craft the stones that formed Main Street or construct the stage here?
Was Jesus entertained by the actors – called hypocrites – as a teenager watching a play with his family?
I wonder how the hands that formed the whole world formed this city. And how this city formed him.