Where did Jesus live? I don’t mean, what part of the world did he live in, but, under what roof did he live? Where would you go if invited to spend the day with Jesus at home?
It is a question we tend not to ask. Once, Jesus tested the sincerity of someone who professed the desire to follow him by saying that foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man – one of his favourite self-descriptions – had no place to lay his head. We tend to take that verse out of context, and think of Jesus as being someone who didn’t have a home. Certainly, we are familiar with stories of Jesus as guest in other peoples’ homes. And certainly, as he moved around from place to place he stayed wherever he was made welcome. But perhaps we think of Jesus as neither having nor needing a home.
But if we think about it, he obviously lived somewhere. We know he was born in Bethlehem, and can be fairly confident that he lived there – and not in a stable or cave – until around the age of two, the cut-off limit for Herod’s massacre of the infants. We know that Joseph took Mary and Jesus down to Egypt for some time, and though we aren’t told in the Gospels it is most probable that they found a home among the Jewish diaspora in Alexandria, the Jewish community that migrated there during the Hellenistic invasion of Judea. After the death of Herod, Joseph brought his family back from Egypt; but, discovering that Bethlehem might still not be safe, kept heading north to Nazareth in Galilee, where Joseph and Mary had lived before Jesus’ birth. Again, there would have been a home. We can confidently assume that Jesus was apprenticed to Joseph as a builder, more than likely working together on the new town of Seppharis. And at some point, still working as a builder and possibly the head of the family following Joseph’s death, we find Jesus based in Capernaum, on Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee), hometown of Simon and Andrew, James and John.
Given how important a home is to our wellbeing; given that Jesus was a house builder; and given that on the night he was betrayed he told his disciples that he was going to his Father’s house to add rooms for them; isn’t it odd that we assume Jesus neither had nor needed a home?
Largely obscured by translation into English (by translators who assumed that Jesus was homeless) Mark’s Gospel strongly suggests that Jesus owned a home in Capernaum, and that, for the first part of his ministry at least, it was the base of his ministry. [Thanks to my former lecturer Elizabeth Fisher for these insights.]
Mark chapter 2 begins, ‘A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home...’ Come home. Not, was staying there (i.e. in the town) or had returned to someone else’s home (we have already seen him visit the home of Simon and Andrew). Home. That is an emotive word. Jesus’ home, in Capernaum. Jesus’ home, where so many people gathered that four friends carrying their paralytic friend could not get in. Jesus’ home they climbed onto the flat roof of and dismantled the structure so they could lower their friend into the house from above...Don’t worry: Jesus was a builder; he rebuilt it.
The very next scene, Jesus is entertaining Levi. English translations make Levi the host (‘While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house’); but the Greek simply says ‘While Jesus was having dinner with Levi in the house...’ Whose house? Jesus’ house? Well, isn’t that where we last saw him?
And again, in chapter 3, we find Jesus having entered ‘a house,’ or, ‘the house’ – a house in which we expect Jesus and his disciples to eat, but they can’t because so many others have turned up hearing Jesus was in, was at home. A house where his family – his mother and brothers and sisters – feel they have a right to have a say in what goes on there. Jesus’ house. The house where his family lived.
And this house is full. Full of people who want to hear what Jesus has to say, because his words are life-giving. Full of people hoping to be healed, or delivered from demonisation. Full of the kind of people ‘good people’ would never welcome into their home, there as Jesus’ guests. And full, even, of people who want to hear what Jesus has to say, or do, because they are looking for a reason to condemn him, to discredit him: these, too, are as welcome as everyone else.
And a house so full the people who live there feel they can no longer be at home in their own home, because they see it as a retreat from ministry and not a base for ministry.