In St. John 1:43, Jesus calls Philip to follow Him. Philip then goes and finds Nathanael and tells him that he has found the one whom Moses and the prophets have foretold: Jesus of Nazareth. Nathanael’s response in verse 46 is: Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
To understand Nathanael’s response, one must first understand Nazareth. Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament, the Talmud or by the historian Josephus. Nazareth was a small, farming community in Israel that had been settled by a few dozen families. There are no trade routes going through Nazareth, so there is no reason to go to Nazareth, nor can one expect anything to come out of Nazareth. With no real economic draw, the town of Nazareth can be assumed to have poor schools, poor infrastructure, and a poor religious center.
So Nathanael has good evidence to support his question wondering if anything good; let alone anything at all, can come out of Nazareth; let alone the promised Savior.
And yet, who is it that comes from Nazareth, to the surprise of Nathanael and everyone else? Jesus, the long promised Messiah.
To an extent, you can argue that Jesus fits the preconceived notion that the youth in small towns are going to leave at the very first chance they get; and that as soon as Jesus turned 30 years old, He saw His big chance and left. And if you draw some conclusions, that perhaps by this time Joseph had died, and maybe even that Jesus had either turned the family carpentry business over to His brothers, or perhaps even that Jesus and Mary had sold the business and Jesus gave the money to Mary to live on. Whatever the case, Jesus left Nazareth.
But, on the other hand, the one from which I will argue, we can also say that yes, Jesus does leave His hometown of Nazareth and go to the bigger cities; but He does this when His time has come. He may not have left at the first chance He got, but He left when the time was right. And regardless of what one may say about the shortcomings of Nazareth, Nazareth did play a significant role in Jesus upbringing, and it will play a role in His earthly ministry.
And so let us not forget that from this small town of Nazareth, came the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God come in the flesh to alter the course of human history by saving His people from their sins. One cannot deny that Jesus, the Son of God, came from the small and undistinguished town of Nazareth and changed the world for all time.
Now it would be wrong to declare that everyone who comes from a small town is the second-coming of Jesus. But what we can argue is that just as Jesus came from a small town and had an influence on the synagogues and temple in Jerusalem; so to can those, particularly youth, who come from a small town today, have an impact on the churches in big cities today.
A new mission for small town churches may very well be that they are to ensure the Christian instruction and upbringing of young people with a strong Lutheran identity in small towns, who will then depart and go to congregations in larger cities, where they will be able to help foster a strong Lutheran identity in that congregation.
This is not to say that all congregations in large cities are lacking in a strong Lutheran identity, nor is it to say that every small town congregation is going to produce only members who have a strong Lutheran identity. What I am saying, is that the role of small town churches should not be disregarded entirely.
If the prevailing thought process is going to be that young people will not stay in small towns, then it is the role of those small town churches to prepare those young people to the best of their ability to be upstanding members of congregations in the larger cities. And in that sense, it is the job of churches to train young people so that they can go into congregations in large cities and be well developed in their faith, where they can have a positive influence on others, who may or may not have the same strong Lutheran upbringing others might have had. Either way, the small town person that moves to the larger town, is going to be a blessing to that congregation because of the instruction in the faith they received before leaving that small town.
And should the youth decide to stay in the small town with that small congregation; well then praise the Lord that the strong Lutheran identity of that congregation will continue forward for future generations.