Home, finally

Three years ago, I was in Capernaum, a small village on the western shore of Lake Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee, not far from Israel’s border with Lebanon and Syria. I walked among the ruins of a synagogue built on the foundations of a synagogue from the time of Jesus, and across the street was a church, built on the foundations of earlier churches, and the bottom layer of rocks belonged to a house, the house of Peter and Andrew, according to tradition.

Capernaum was the home base of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. In chapter 3 of Mark, we are told that Jesus went from the synagogue to the lake, and from there up the mountain with the twelve, and then, it says in verse 20, he went home.

Home has to be one of the most powerful words in any language. After a long day of work, he went home. After a short stay at the hospital, she went home. After three generations of exile, they went home. Home we think about familiar faces, the smell of breakfast, the voice of one who calls us; we hear the laughter of children playing outside, the sound of the rain on the roof at night; we see a table and a bed, a porch or a window, and the way the view changes from hour to hour, season to season. Home – the word is heavy with the promise of peace.

It was good for Jesus to be home, I imagine; to sit in his favorite chair, to put up his feet and look out the window. Where do you imagine Jesus went when it says, he went home? Didn’t he say, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”?[1]

Other English versions of this passage stay closer to the Greek by translating, ‘he entered a house.’ Capernaum was the home base of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and the house he entered may well have been the house of Peter and Andrew, just across the street from the synagogue. Going there at the end of a long day of healing and teaching must have felt like coming home, but once more, Mark tells us, such a crowd gathered round Jesus and the disciples that they had no chance even to eat. The house sat like an island in a sea of people who wanted to be near Jesus, people who were drawn to him because they had heard of his power to heal and forgive.

And then his family came; his mother, his brothers and sisters. They were the people who had been with him the longest, the people, presumably, closest to him, the people who knew him best. Only they were there not out of concern for his well-being, that he may not be getting enough sleep or may not be eating right, no, they had come to get him — to restrain him, if necessary. “He is out of his mind,” they said. His own family did not recognize the power at work in him. They thought it was madness and had come for an intervention. They wanted to take him back to the life before he let himself be baptized by John, back to the familiar routines untouched by the proclamation of God’s coming kingdom, back to what they considered to be his home.

And they were not the only ones who were deeply concerned about his actions. Religious experts from Jerusalem were watching and they accused him of being in league with the devil, the master of demons. Like his own family, they did not recognize the power at work in him as the power of God. His teachings, his actions were too disruptive.

His family and the scholars from the city were not slow or willfully blind; they didn’t know they were witnessing the liberating work of God. They were living in difficult times, and like us they wanted to maintain what little stability was left in their domestic life and their religious thought. And Jesus was rocking the boat. He was healing people, freeing them from all that kept them captive to powers other than the love and mercy of God, and he did it regardless of who they were or where they came from or what day of the week it was – there was no proper order to it; his words and actions seemed extravagant and reckless, frightening even. Jesus was too disruptive; to them his power felt like chaos. “He is out of his mind,” his family said. “He’s fighting demons with demons,” the scholars from the city concluded.

The presence and work of God in Christ was not unambiguous, and what was liberating and healing to so many, looked like madness or even the devil’s work to others. Again, they were not slow or blind, but they did not know what to make of the disruptive presence of this man to whom the wounded and oppressed were drawn.

Mark paints a scene for us. It’s a little house with Jesus in it, and in it and around it a throng of people, the mess of humanity in all its diversity, beauty, and imperfection; people of all ethnic backgrounds and political convictions, people on crutches and on stretchers, poor and rich; all of humanity with our hopes and our fears, our flaws and our dreams, with our hunger and thirst for life, and we’re pressing in at the doors and windows, aching to be near Jesus and to touch the hem of his cloak. The only ones to remain on the edge of the scene are the ones who already know what’s best for the family and best for religion, and in their world Jesus must be restrained. In their world, the disruptive presence and work of God need to be brought under control.

Jesus was at odds with his family and in conflict with the religious authorities, and not because he was a young man with wild ideas. When the scribes accused him of being in league with Beelzebul, the master of demons, he pointed out that their charge made no sense. Why would Satan cooperate in the eviction of Satan? If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And Satan, one must assume, would have a strong interest in keeping intact arrangements as old as human memory. But Jesus was about rearranging things significantly and permanently. And to illustrate the point he quoted a line from the burglary manual:

No one can enter a strong one’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong one; then indeed the house can be plundered.

Jesus identified himself as the divine thief who came to plunder the strong man’s house. He had tied up the strong man and now he was ransacking the place.

Jesus is the divine thief who has come to rob the biggest thief of all. Life belongs to God, not to the master of demons, not to the whispering liar who sows the seeds of lovelessness in which our true humanity is lost. Jesus has his eyes on the strong man’s house, a house as big as the world, and he has his eyes on us who are tempted to believe that living in the strong man’s house is as good as it gets. Jesus ties up the strong man, demon by demon, fear by fear, lie by lie, and leads the captives to freedom, leads them home.

Mark paints a scene for us; it’s a little house with Jesus in it. It was first seen in a village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, but since then people have found it in countless places around the world, wherever and whenever disciples of Jesus live and proclaim the good news. The little house is where Christ’s power to heal and forgive resides. At times we may be standing outside with those who say he is out of his mind. He his beside himself; he’s completely out of it, they say, and there’s truth in their confusion. Because his life, in contrast to ours, revolves entirely around the will of God, and the whisperer of loveless lies can’t get a handle on him. “He is beside himself,” they say and we, at times, say it with them, and there’s truth to it, because Jesus doesn’t fall into our self-absorbed ways and will not think of himself outside of his relationship with God. He entrusts himself completely to God and with reckless extravagance he offers what he receives.

A crowd is sitting around him and pressing in at the doors and windows, aching to be near him, and they say, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.” And he looks at all the humanity sitting around him, all of us wounded ones, all of us lost ones, all of us with our hunger for life that is really life and not just a prelude to death, and he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus sits in the midst of those who long for healing and freedom, and where Jesus is present, God speaks and shines and rules. The beauty of his mission is that the closer we draw to him with our desire to touch and be healed by his wholeness, the closer we draw to each other. And the closer we draw to the reality of suffering and longing in each other, the closer we draw to him and the wholeness he brings to creation.

There’s a little house with Jesus in it; it was first seen in a village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, but since then people have found it wherever and whenever disciples of Jesus live and proclaim the good news. It’s where Christ’s power to heal and forgive resides. It’s a little house that’s big enough for all of us. It’s home, finally.


[1] Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58

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