Recently I watched on television the harrowing drama Cathy come home by Ken Loach. Written in the 1960s, it tells of the plight of Cathy, who, through a series of misfortunes, is left homeless and separated from her husband and children. In the last scene we see her trying to hitch hike a lift to join her husband in the north of England but as we watch her on the roadside looking right and left for a lift, night falls and we are left uncertain as to whether she will get to her destination.
My reaction to this uncertainty was a longing for Cathy to get to her destination and reunite with her husband and an anxiety that she might not succeed and be left in the dark. This anxiety and concern reflects the need we all have to have a sense of belonging somewhere and, as we learn from today’s Gospel reading, Jesus was no exception here.
When his disciples assure Jesus that they will follow him wherever he goes, he replies that ‘Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’. I detect a sadness here in not having a home to go to now that he is on the journey to Jerusalem. This is not, though, the whole story. In spite of his sorrow, Jesus then asks his disciples to leave behind family commitment in order to follow him. They must not go back to bury their dead or say farewell the living if they are ‘to be fit for the kingdom of God’.
It appears then, from this Gospel text, that a sense of belonging somewhere matters to us all but Jesus is giving greater significance to a sense of belonging in the kingdom of God. To achieve that sense requires a journey that is not an easy one. It is hard work. As Jesus reminds his disciples, they will have to put their hand to the plough. If we read on through Luke’s Gospel we learn that the disciples will be ‘lambs in the midst of wolves’ and cannot take any possessions with them on their journey. They may be housed as a labourer or they may not be welcome; there are no guarantees. Their task is to heal others.
Why does a sense of belonging in the kingdom of God require such sacrifice and hard work? If God loves us all why does it have to be this way? I believe that the sacrifice and hard work were essential for these first followers of Jesus because they were called by him to follow him on his journey to Jerusalem and death on the Cross. As Jesus as the Son of Man had no home and was rejected to the point of death, the disciples had to share this situation with him. If they could do this then this would pave the way for their participation in the glory to come when Jesus would rise from the dead to join his father in heaven. Over the centuries, and in today’s world, many people, in recognition of this requirement for participation in the kingdom of God, have also given up a sense of belonging to hearth and home; some to the convent, some to the monastery, others to serve as missionaries, all to focus on their relationship to God.
This journey to Jerusalem reflects the pattern in the Bible of exile and restoration that reflects our turning away from God and his restoration of us that is rooted in his love for us. As Tom Wright expresses it in his book ‘Simply Christian’ the expulsion from the Garden of Eden was the first ‘leaving home moment’ and there follows multiple exiles and restorations. He writes that ‘Israel’s multiple exiles and restorations are ways of re-enacting that primal expulsion and symbolically expressing the hope for homecoming, for humankind to be restored, for God’s people to be rescued, for creation itself to be renewed’. He then goes on to write that ‘only by one last shocking exile and restoration can we go through the door to new access to God by Jesus’. It is that particular journey of exile and restoration that the disciples of Jesus are being called upon by him to meet head on.
Exile and restoration is a pattern that has continued over the years in human affairs. The current refugee crisis comes to mind here. In a milder format there is the theme of going away and coming back again which has been used many times by writers. In childrens’ stories, there are two examples; Peter Pan in the journey to the mythical island of Neverland and the return of the children home and Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz going over the rainbow and back home to the chant of ‘there is no place like home’. There is a point to be made here though that, in these childrens’ stories, the message is that children need to have a home in which to grow up. Once they have grown up then they have the opportunity to go out into the world to live and serve others.
We need not, though, dismiss childhood journeys into fantasy land as fairy tales. There is more to it than that. When Harry Potter departs from platform 9½ he is going on a journey to defeat evil. Judy Garland, who played Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, said in later years, ‘Somewhere over the rainbow is not about reaching a goal, it is about hope’. Similarly the journey that Jesus invites his disciples to share with him is a journey of hope. Hope that we may all enter the kingdom of God.
As the journey to Jerusalem is about this hope, it is, as the Commentary on Luke entitled ‘journeys with Luke’ expresses it, a journey of recognition rather than a travelog. As such, we do not need a guide book, nor reference to distances and specific places to visit. What we do need to do, as the Commentary expresses it, is to ‘turn our gaze to the fate of Jesus as he had to ‘set his face to go to Jerusalem’. This is to share in his resolve to face up to what was to come and to face up to our own ups and downs in life. To keep hope alive as the journey to Jerusalem was a journey of hope for the glory to come.
So let me finish by saying that whilst we value home and home life greatly we can keep in mind that ultimate security is to be found in relationship to God. As St Augustine wrote: ‘our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee’.