One of the most oft-quoted cryptic things that Jesus said was that prophet is honored everywhere but in his hometown. I've never really understood this saying, although I've always tried to, but in the past week, I think these words have come more into focus.
It's not, as is so easy to believe, that those closest to you will never get your holy side; it's that they will easily forget your holy side.
I spent most of my Monday at the funeral of a beloved relative. Tuesday, the memorial service for a dear friend. Each dedicated their lives to service, to loving as the Lord called them to love, and yet, I found myself surprised by the services. Because I have to admit, I forgot.
Ralph was a firefighter for, I think they said, 30 years. He was an elder at his church. He was a driver for one of the county's access van systems, in both this county and another one. He volunteered with the fire department's social events and with the sheriff department's senior outreach. Then someone told stories about the way he cut firewood and took it down to a woman who needed it to heat her home. About how someone needed a place to sleep or comfort or something, and Ralph took the blanket off his bed so someone else could sleep well. It was these kinds of stories that made me stop and think because, quite simply, this was not the Ralph I was ever thinking about.
I was thinking about the guy who always wore a hat, who had that playful sense of humor and that keen sense of rhythm. I was thinking about the guy who could rib you one minute and hug you the next, then ask you to jitterbug. I was thinking about the guy a few weeks before, who, in a rare sober conversation with him (not in the sense of drunk, but in the sense of "unmasked), thanked me for one of my recent exploits and told me simply, "That was a very good thing you did."
Debbie, I knew less-well, although she had been a member of my church longer than I had and was the wife of one of my elders. I'd seen her serving around the church, had been to her home for small group, had shared space with her at retreats. And people told stories of the things she loved to do, of the way she lived in her quiet life, of the lives she touched through this or that service. A volunteer down at the therapeutic riding center, talking with parents of special needs children. A member of the quilting club, gathering with other women to tell stories through stitch. Coordinating the Giving Tree to make sure underprivileged children had presents for Christmas. It was again these stories that made me stop and think because, again, this was not the Debbie I was thinking about.
I was thinking about the woman who created an open home, who never judged anyone, who was always mysteriously absent while conspicuously present. I was thinking about the woman who spent small group standing in the kitchen, making sure the tacos were warm, making sure there was enough toilet paper in the bathroom. I was thinking about the woman who never sat down lest you might have to get up and get something for yourself.
When Jesus said these words - a prophet is honored but not in his hometown - I honestly never considered He was talking about a physical place like Bethlehem. I always knew He was talking about a relational place, that place where people are closest to you, where they know your story so intimately, where you're so much a part of what's going on that people forget the other things you're a part of.
That's the case with Ralph and Debbie, and many who have gone before them and sadly, many who are still to go. These people are so much a fabric of my life that I forget their holy side. I forget all the little things they're doing in the name of Love because I'm more focused on simply who they are and all of that sort of bleeds together until you realize one day that it's been a long time since you considered them a prophet. It's been a long time since you've thought of their holy Love.
There's both a blessing and a curse in that. Everyone needs a place, I think, to just be who they are. To be a part of the fabric, to be a member of the family. A man needs a place where he doesn't have to be a prophet, where he can just be Ralph, where she can just be Debbie, but we must never forget their holy work, either. There are prophets among us.
The greatest of which in our very hometowns.