Last night at theology on tap, Fr. O’Hare was talking about the parish he runs down in Banica, Dominican Republic on the Haitian border. At one point, his story turned towards the Cross, and he said (and I’m heavily paraphrasing here),
I want to tell you something to hopefully change the way you see every Crucifix from now on. As you know, above the Cross, Pilate had written “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek [John 19:19-20]. He could have just as easily put “Jesus the Christ” or just “Jesus,” but he wrote “Jesus of Nazareth.” Why? Well, Nazareth was very poor and looked down upon by the Romans. In an American context, it might be someplace like Appalachia. So calling Him Jesus of Nazareth was a way to make fun of Jesus, of Nazareth, and of the Jews for being poor. The Bible doesn’t include this detail by mistake: Christ is intentionally identifying Himself with the poor. And He does so forever and for all time, prominently displayed until the end of time on Crucifixes around the world. Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus of Appalachia, Jesus of Banica.
I was pretty blown away, and remembered a passage from John’s Gospel (John 1:44-46):
Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Wow. It’s interesting, too, that Jesus, while identifying with – and becoming one of – the poor, chose someone bigoted like Nathanael. But recall passages like Mark 2:13-17,
Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”