“A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house” (Mark 6:4)
Fame is a fickle thing. It comes and goes. It damns but rarely blesses. So called “reality” TV shows make celebrities of people who have really done nothing apart from appeared on such programmes.
Fame celebrates not achievement, or merit, or even notoriety, but simply fame itself. And it recedes, like a great wave, even more quickly than it arrived.
Fame can lead to both adulation and rejection. As we hear in today’s Gospel, when Jesus returns to his home town, his fame works against him.
Yet fame has always been much a matter of chance - capricious, volatile and variable. Great figures of history - as we reckon them - were not necessarily great in their own time. Shakespeare was one playwright amongst many. Van Gogh died in poverty. The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was unknown in his lifetime. The war poetry of Wilfrid Owen too, was mostly published after his death. The singer Eva Cassidy, who died in 1996, became an international star about 4 years later and had 3 numbers ones from recordings not released in her lifetime. Many other popular musicians performers have gained great fame, greater fame after their deaths than in their lives.
And it works the other way too. There are composers, authors, political figures who were giant while they were alive, but who are now barely remembered. And I guess, if we dig deep we may remember some of these, who are now hardly noted. There is even a website - OnceFamous.com - dedicated to forgotten celebrities. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been updated since 2003 - which probably says it all!
And of course, even in life, in the present moment, the line between celebrity and anonymity is very thin. Those who knew famous people before they were famous are often able to say how unremarkable they were. Ordinary. Unassuming.
In today’s Gospel it is something of this which Jesus experiences. “A prophet is only despised in his own country” he remarks. His own people lacked faith. They knew him a little too well. He was no one great, they said, no one extraordinary. What on earth is all this we have heard about him? He is one of us. The carpenter. The son of Mary. One of us.
And of course, without realising it they hit the nail on the head. He is one of us. He was born amongst us. He lives with us. He works with us. He shares our sorrows and our joys. He carries our sins and our sufferings. He celebrates alongside us. He turns our water into wine, and our mourning into hope. He is part of our families, part of our lives.
The Ordinariness of Christ, and his relative insignificance in his own time, is precisely the most important thing about him.
This is expressed so well in this famous passage
One solitary life ...
He was born in an obscure village
The child of a peasant woman
He grew up in another obscure village
Where he worked in a carpenter’s shop
Until he was thirty
He never wrote a book
He never held an office
He never went to college
He never visited a big city
He never travelled more than two hundred miles
From the place where he was born
He did none of the things
Usually associated with greatness
He had no credentials but himself
He was only thirty three
His friends ran away
One of them denied him
He was turned over to his enemies
And went through the mockery of a trial
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves
While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing
The only property he had on earth
When he was dead
He was laid in a borrowed grave
Through the pity of a friend
Twenty centuries have come and gone.
All the armies that have ever marched
All the navies that have ever sailed
All the parliaments that have ever sat
All the kings that ever reigned put together
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that one solitary life
God shares and touches and embraces our lives. The one who made everything, who made us, is one of us. He is with us.