The biblical image of home.

The lectionary text for this week (Matthew 4: 12-23) is a call narrative. Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, James and John away from their fishing boats and nets and families. It is traditionally portrayed as being called away from home, away from comfort, away from wealth. But it occurred that it can be read differently. Just before the story Matthew quotes Isaiah who spoke of, “a people who sat in darkness,… who sat in the region and shadow of death.” That is a reference to the exile, the time when Israel was homeless and forced into Babylon. Maybe Matthew is saying the disciples were living in exile, in darkness, in the shadow of death (presumably referring to the Roman occupation of the time) and Jesus came along and invited them home, to the kingdom of heaven, to God, to the light.

This would certainly be in keeping with a major biblical theme. We are always searching for home. It is the issue faced by humanity from the moment we left the Garden of Eden. Abraham and Sarah are called to a new land, a new home; Joseph asks his descendants to make sure his remains are brought home; Moses, of course, leads the people to a better home; the exile is all about missing home; and all of the kingdom talk in the New Testament is really about trying to create a sense of home.

One of the things you learn in reading all of these stories is that home changes over the course of a life. There can be a deepening sense of home that does not depend on geography. In Matthew 8: 20 Jesus says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” We have normally read that as bordering on self pity but what if it’s not? What if part of what defines our humanity is defining home somewhat differently. We are home when we are at one with God.

I’m reading a biography of St. Francis of Assisi and he would certainly embrace this. Francis famously gave up any physical definition of home and embraced poverty and simplicity in emulation of Jesus.

It is a challenging thought to modern North Americans who put so much into our physical homes. But as with all other possessions it must be asked whether our homes are helping us to be closer to God or are getting in the way? Are they places of light or darkness? Have you found home or is God calling you home?