Many stories in the Gospels are tied to geography. The locations are like hashtags, I suppose, allowing us to trace patterns, to plot stories on rocks and roads and rivers. And attending to these tags adds richness to the narrative. Where we want to take the stories of Jesus and turn them into fables, moralistic lessons we can quickly apply or ignore, the Gospel writers keep stitching the stories to the ground.
A widow’s only son is raised from the dead outside the town of Nain. Jesus turns water into wine in Cana. He grows up in Nazareth. He returns to Nazareth and is nearly killed. These towns are within a 5K (Nazareth to Nain) or 10K (Nazareth to Cana). There was trading between the towns. There were family ties and rivalries. Given the cultural distance from Jerusalem and the proximity to Gentile lands, there was a sense of frontier independence, though the land had been in the family for generations.
When people set out on the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem it was a chance to renew connections. Encouragement during the walking, stories around the campfires. And singing. Always the songs of ascent, sung passionately by grandparents, voices etched with emotion at the prayers for family, fellowship and peace. They were sung distractedly by parents shielding young children from the explicit suffering in some songs. They were sung tentatively by kids, looking across the fire at the sad eyes of grandmothers and clenched fists of grandfathers.
I love those campfire moments with friends seen only occasionally. There’s a richness in the face-to-face that keeps hearts going across time and distance.
That’s the culture Jesus grew up in. Real people, real generations, real needs.