It’s one of the more curious verses in Scripture: “The Son of Man has no where to rest his head.”
I’ve often wondered about those words if they were a complaint from Jesus. That no one, during his 3-year public ministry, gave him a place to call home. And that he was homeless for those 3 years in the very world he himself called forth and created.
Imagine having a great big Elm Tree in your backyard, and you think, “What a perfect spot for a tree house! I’m gonna build a tree house, or for guys a man cave up in the sky, where I can watch baseball and football on Sunday afternoons and not be bothered by anyone.”
So you build the house about 20 feet up the tree, you work hard for 3 months putting it together, get the cable wire hooked into the tree house so you can lock the door and watch sports, finally finish the project that has your name on every nail, and then your neighbor, who belongs to the local Crime Family, or to some gang, says, “Give me the keys to your tree house or else.” They lock you out of your own work. That’s exactly what they did with Jesus and this tree house called Earth that he created billions of years ago. And not a day goes by where we don’t continue to lock Jesus out of his own creation. Hanging a Cross in a public school classroom is now reprehensible. And there are, I’m sure, some Catholics who support it, because heaven forbid we should offend anyone with a religious article that expresses how much God loves us.
Time marches on, but in some regards, not much changes; the Son of Man has no place to rest his head. How can we not feel bad for Jesus?
With those words, I don’t sense a complaint by Jesus. What we do see, however, is an insatiable desire for the Son of Man to be included and at the heart of the lives of those he created. It seems like God is crying out for attention, that he cries for our attention, where he will be included in the game of our respective lives. Where he’s our Manager. Not just here in this holy space, where we lovingly offer the Lord an hour of our lives each week. But each day. And in a culture that is in the process of trying very hard to relegate and limit the worship of God to Sunday mornings only, this is an incredibly important topic for all of us. Are we going to allow a godless, political correctness push you around and dictate your life, or, are you going to live your faith in Jesus Christ every day?
Jesus’ words of having no place to rest his head are spoken, not in the Temple, or synagogue, or any religious setting. They’re spoken right smack in the middle of the world, as they’re all journeying to Jerusalem. He’s on the road. He’s outdoors. The Son of Man is walking the paths that he himself created and called into existence. He’s out in his classroom (probably taking the summer off like teachers do). He’s out there in his UPS truck. He’s out there shopping at Wal-Mart and across the street at Honey Farms.
The daily challenge for us is to not leave him behind in the synagogue; in the Catholic synagogue. But to offer our Lord a place to rest his head in our hearts and souls and voices out there where he spoke these sad words.
Imagine if I didn’t give Jesus a place to rest his head from Monday morning through Saturday afternoon? No funerals would get done. No meetings would be held. No anointings. No visiting. “Well Father, you can’t do that. You’re a priest!” Guess what? You’re a priest too. If you’re baptized, you belong to the common priesthood of Jesus Christ. With that comes the solemn responsibility of bringing Christ into the world. Pray for the virtue of fortitude to ensure that responsibility is lived out.
Jesus is looking for a place to rest his head. Is that so hard? In an overcharged politically correct society that relegates God to a second class citizen, treating him like an immigrant, it can be very difficult with cultural winds and cultural forces insisting you not do this during the week. That you don’t give God a place to rest his head outside these walls. Embrace the challenge of knocking down those walls that have been erected at the wily, deceptive command of Satan.
The lack of place to rest his head is, at the heart, an invitation to follow him and don’t look back. Looking back results in a pillar of salt. We are to be the salt of the earth, bringing the flavor and sweetness of Jesus’ life to the bad food of this crazy, violent world. But we’re too precious in the eyes of God to be turned into a pillar of salt.
To follow the Risen One is to experience at times what he did; that there are some aspects of this world where we are not to rest our heads. To never be comfortable in areas that contradict the teachings of Christ. But such places can also be opportunities to stay and evangelize through the power of the Spirit who dwells in you. It’s easy to run away from bad odors. We teach our children to “run away” from anything or anyone who will harm them. That’s a good teaching. But as mature Christian adults, many situations where our faith is questioned can also be opportunities to follow Christ by way of staying and transforming.
This is what I love about Pope Francis. He told the Italian Mafia to convert or they were going to hell. And he’s still around to talk about it! He could have avoided all talk about crime as connected to eternal existence. But he opened the door to transformation in a situation with people who would not hesitate to end his life.
Following Christ who has no place to rest his head means never to look back. Don’t look back at the ways of the pagans and say, “That’s how I want to live.” There’s no backward with God. There is only forward to the resurrection. Give Jesus a place to rest his head. Not only here, but out there for the other 6 days of creation.
We do live in a culture at this time that has a bad habit of mislabeling people. And that’s not a mislabel.
Good, faithful men and women, even young adults, are labeled today with all sorts of names, when a certain belief is expressed, for example, with the issue of marriage. What is a God-centered human relationship and what is not. And when such a belief is expressed in our overly politically correct culture, then all the labels are spewed forth like an angry volcano; bigot, racist, homophobe, narrow-minded, still living in the 50’s. When none of this is an accurate naming of a person.
But not to worry. Jesus our Lord gets mislabeled, or misnamed by the crowd also. In this Gospel Jesus isn’t called any of the bad names that angry people toss around today so easily and freely. But there was a time when he was called a drunkard and a glutton. So he knows about such attacks. But he does get mislabeled here for the same reason as the awful names today; the reason being, they don’t know who he really is.
I suppose if I was called John the Baptist or Elijah, I wouldn’t feel so bad about that, as opposed to being called a bigot or a homophobe for preaching and believing in God’s truth on Matrimony. But Jesus’ reaction to being called John the Baptist or Elijah is a reaction to be noted for our own good. His reaction is almost a non-reaction. Our Lord doesn’t respond to the Disciples by denying the names of John the Baptist and Elijah. If anything, our Lord knows that those two great Prophets set the stage for his own life and purpose. His reaction, rather, is to make certain that those who are closest to him – his Disciples – have a pure and accurate understanding of who he is. We thank Peter for speaking up for the rest of them; You are “The Christ of God.” The Anointed One of God. Not John; not Elijah; but God’s anointed.
Jesus is adamant that we know this about him, for so much is at stake here. When we trust in the truth of who he is, then mislabeling him and misrepresenting him is greatly lessened. There are Catholics today who mislabel and misrepresent our Lord. And marriage is only one area. Is there anything worse than misrepresenting God in our Catholic faith? Yet, this is a very serious issue today in our culture, where professed Catholics will lead others astray as a result of their personal beliefs.
So, just a couple things about the absolute necessity to not mislabel Jesus, and to not misrepresent the purpose of his life and his teachings that are sealed and bonded to his holy name.
First, what does the name Jesus mean? In the Hebrew, the name Jesus means “God saves,” when spoken in English of course. John the Baptist does not mean “God saves,” and neither does Elijah. John the Baptist probably means “Head chopped off.” Elijah probably means “Fiery chariot.”
So the next logical question for us is, “How does God save?” Is Jesus some sort of super-hero, like Batman or Captain America? Two heroes that never seem to die? Of course not! “God saves” means the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders who have no knowledge of his purpose, and be killed by them, being raised on the third day. “God saves” means that God will lay down his life for us, his friends. John the Baptist laid down his life also, but he didn’t save anyone. He saved his own soul through his baptism of blood. But it affected no other person’s eternal state. This is why Jesus is to always have priority in our hearts. A place where no one else can come close, not even your spouse. A spot reserved for him alone until the day we go off in a fiery chariot. And if you don’t have that place at this time, then please create one where it’s you and your Creator, and no one else.
And second, there’s this reminder of St Paul in today’s short reading to the Galatians. It also is a very serious issue in today’s climate, and that’s the issue of division. Paul saw serious cracks forming in the Galatian community because of outsiders who were mislabeling Jesus. So Paul, in his rich form of expression, calls these Christians back to square one; “Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus…There is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Paul does not dismiss an individual’s background, whether Jewish or Gentile. And he doesn’t dismiss gender, male and female, which this asinine culture is attempting to do today. Of course he recognizes the beautiful uniqueness of male and female, and the complementary roles they play in human relationships. What Paul is telling us is that there is something much more fundamental now in recognizing Jesus for who he is and what he has accomplished for us. And that is that we all have equal dignity and importance in the eyes of God. Any young infant baptized on any given Sunday has equal dignity with Pope Francis. And Paul reminds them of this.
Division occurs, and misrepresents the name of Jesus, when there is a failure on our part to see equal dignity in the other. Or, when our faith is misrepresented by our words and actions based on personal beliefs rather than the true teachings of Christ upheld and protected by his Church.
‘Who do say that I am?” We say that your name means that you suffered and died for us so that we may rejoice now and in the life to come. And, that your name, Lord, makes us one in ways of love, respect, and dignity, and not mislabeling others with evil words. This is the accurate representation of who Jesus is, and what his name means.
Why would Simon not say, “Good Teacher, I invited you to my house. You were kind enough to accept my invitation for a sumptuous dinner, because that’s how we Pharisees eat. So please, Good Teacher, let me help you wash your feet, removing all the dust you accrued on your long walk here. Allow me to show you the hospitality you deserve.” Is that so hard?
Instead, the Pharisee allowed Jesus to enter his house, at his invitation, then proceeded to treat the Good Teacher like a second or third class citizen of Palestine. Sort of the same way I see some people, including Catholics, treat immigrants today. Where some sadly forget we’re talking about human beings. And that’s not to say that laws don’t apply to their situation, because they certainly do. But the dislike and the distaste for the immigrant – legal or illegal – has been nothing short of less than human treatment on the part of some folks who profess to worship Jesus Christ, an immigrant if there ever was one. Because when he took on the flesh, he was definitely living in a foreign world.
Simon the Pharisee simply treats Jesus the same way the Lord will be treated by the entire religious class of the 1st century, not just one Pharisee, by the Roman authority, and by his own Apostles; with abandonment and leprosy. “We’ll invite him to dinner, but we’re not going to dignify him by giving him a basin of water where he can wash his feet. He doesn’t deserve us treating him that nice.”
Instead, it takes an unnamed woman with a sordid reputation to treat Jesus the way that the religious guy was supposed to. Think about that! Are there people in our lives where our faith commands us to treat them with at least a modicum of respect, but instead we may take the hands off approach, and treat them like they’re a nuclear reactor working at full capacity? We don’t want them making us glow! Just a thought consistent with this Gospel.
This unnamed woman here…What is up with her? How dare she enters someone else’s home, start crying tears that fall on the dusty feet of Jesus, wiping them with her soily hair, then anoint them with alabaster! I’d hate to think how she saved enough money to purchase a flask of ointment. What is up with her actions? Here’s what’s up with her, this saintly unnamed woman who knows how to treat the number one immigrant our world has ever known.
First, there are tears of joy and tears of sorrow. At a person’s funeral, or throughout the entire funeral process; the wake, Funeral Mass, burial, and mercy meal, most times there will be both sorts of tears. Tears from laughter and a sense of joy because of the funny things about the deceased. Their personality quirks, their likes and dislikes, something hilarious they said or did. Lots of stories with tears of joy. Alongside tears of sorrow because of their permanent absence until we meet again.
But this saintly, unnamed woman creates a third set of tears, tears that even Blessed Mary and the other holy women who stood at the foot of Jesus’ Cross will shed sometime after this moving Gospel scene. That being, tears for Jesus. Tears for the number one immigrant.
This particular set of tears that emit from her eyes and roll down her face are, in this case, tears that search for two particular things; God’s mercy and God’s forgiveness. Now, if you’re Irish, especially Irish men, and you don’t know how to weep, you may have a difficult time finding some tears for Jesus. Such tears are not limited to the female gender. Reason being that we all need God’s mercy and forgiveness. We all fall short. We all need tears for Jesus.
So Simon just stands there and watches this woman do what she so humbly does to Jesus, and he’s all aghast. He’s flipping out about what’s taking place in his own home, where mercy and faithfulness meet. Where heaven and earth come together right in front of him. May our homes always be a place where our faith meets God’s mercy.
So Simon thinks, “If this guy Jesus knew what sort of woman she is, if were really a prophet, and not just an immigrant, he would know what sort of woman this is who is touching him with her hair and tears.”
Arrogance is so blinding. Arrogance causes us to see things the way they are not. Arrogance will cause us to see truth as deception and lies, loving movements as sin, humility as embarrassment. The owner of the house is embarrassed by what this woman is doing. Because even though he can see, this religious authority is incredibly blind to the ways of heaven.
Does the same go for us? Do we have the spiritual insight and courage to admit any blindness we have? That we can be blind to the radical ways of heaven, and shut out the presence of God to protect our own thoughts and beliefs? Or, do we fall back to the old argument of, “They’re here illegally, the law is the law, send them back by the hundreds and thousands, with or without their entire family.” That’s a belief that fails to recognize at a minimum the dignity of the human person. It’s no different than how Simon treats Jesus and this formerly sinful woman. Interestingly, his condescension is directed at both Jesus and the woman, keeping them together.
And then there’s the oil. Expensive oil that I hate to think of how she paid for it. Tears for Jesus. Oil for Jesus. Why do we need oil in our personal tanks, in our personal relationship with Christ? We need oil because we’re not going to be here forever. On the surface, the sinful woman turned saintly is preparing Jesus for his own immigrant death, when he will be sent back to where he came from. That’s the surface.
Underneath the surface, Jesus is preparing her for heaven. Because in his death the gates open. We’re invited in the same way Simon invites Jesus, minus the arrogance. But before we get there, there must be tears for Jesus. We must seek his mercy and forgiveness in our lives.
Don’t relate to the arrogant Simon. Relate to the humble woman. Be an immigrant yourself as your ancestors and my ancestors were. Walk in their shoes today. And know that God’s mercy is ever-present in the Person of Jesus Christ, who is Lord and Savior.
“God has visited his people.”
Is this true with only life and death? Or does God visit his people in other parts of our lives where death is not imminent or has not occurred?
What we have in the Gospel this Sunday, as well as the first reading where Elijah calls on the Lord to return the life-breath of the widow’s son back to his body, is the pinnacle of God visiting his people. The top of Mt. Everest of how God visits his people. The pinnacle being raising a dead person to life.
If you believe in miracles, which by the way do happen in many forms every day in our world, which the national media feels no need to investigate or report…it doesn’t sell newspapers. But if you believe that miracles do in fact happen, events that are unexplained according to the laws of nature, then what happens in the city of Nain is the most incredible, and most unexpected way of how God visits his people.
But there’s one concern. We were not part of the large crowd following Jesus, nor part of a large crowd following a certain widow walking out of her city gates while a number of guys carried her dead son’s coffin. This event in the Gospel is foreign territory to all of us. Has anyone here ever seen a dead person in a coffin, or like Lazarus; in a tomb for 4 days, come back to life? And I don’t mean you heard about it from someone. I mean you witnessed it. If you have, you are indeed a rare specimen. The rarest of all. If you were present when the life-breath of someone who had unquestionably died returned to their body then you are rarer than rare. The kind of meat I would never eat.
Does this stuff still happen today? Where the spirit returns to the body giving the body life again? The way I would answer that sort of question is, “God can do whatever he wants to do.” And if the life-breath does not return to a dead person’s body, does that mean that God has not visited his people?
We know that 1000’s of people die every day in our world. Many from natural causes, many from disease, a number from tragic circumstances, be it persecution, vehicle accidents, terrorism. Is it right and just for us to say about God that when each person’s coffin is being carried to the cemetery, as they were doing in the Gospel, that if that person does not come back to life, then God has not visited that particular situation? Maybe he was too busy with 500 situations on the other side of the world. Or, maybe someone was praying much harder elsewhere than we were, and God’s attention was given to them and not to us?
This is a very human way of thinking about the Divine. And too many times, we will allow ourselves to fall into the trap of believing that God has ignored our personal situation.
It would be better than nice if Jesus showed up out of nowhere, like he does in the city of Nain, touch the coffin of our loved one, and say, “Young Man, young lady, I tell you, arise!” That, my friends, is as easy and simple as the any return to life after death will get. No medical devices. No tubes. No doctors or nurses. No operating rooms. All medical assistance is unknown and foreign. Just a guy coming up, with 12 others, some fishermen and tax collectors included, being followed by a large crowd, and touching a coffin with some words. How many doctors would like to have that prescription in their possession for returning a spirit to the body of a young person? Every one of them!
The danger for us in Gospels like this is exactly what happens, and how easily it happens. Jesus makes it look too easy. He knows the power to do what he does resides within him. He is God in the flesh. He can pull off any miraculous cure that he wants to, and all the bad spirits in the world and beyond have no power to stop him. Even the bad spirits of death, the worst spirit of all. Jesus has them under his thumb. They shake and shudder when they see him coming. And he knows it.
When it comes to life and death, has God stopped visiting his people in our time, in our world? Many skeptics think he has. The simple answer is “No, he hasn’t stopped.” The longer answer is also that today his visitation looks radically different than it did when he walked around Palestine with some fishermen. God can do whatever he wills to do, and he will. But his visitation to us at death and after death will not be the same experience we see played out in the city of Nain. Where Jesus will literally show up in his human body, touch the coffin, and say “Arise!” This event occurs before he carries a Cross. After his Cross, Resurrection and Ascension, his visitation to us looks far different from this incredible scene.
Here’s what it looks like now, since he Ascended into heaven: 1) At the moment of death, and even before, the many angels are commanded forth to carry out their responsibility of protecting our souls. That’s when the Devil has his last shot at us, which is why the good protection is sent forth. 2) The Communion of Saints are ready to pray on our behalf, which is why we need to seek their prayers…for ourselves and for others at that time. And 3) We have salvation now, as they did not, prior to our Lord’s resurrection, meaning our transformation after death is beyond language to describe in its beauty.
When Jesus raises the young man and hands him back to his widowed mother, as incredible as that gift was in that moment, there was no salvation when he died. There was no coming home to God. It was before his Cross.
Which is why God’s visitation to us today is far greater than what even Jesus did in that moment. God’s visitation to us believers now takes on the look of life after death, which is far greater than a return of the spirit to the body of a young man who will die once more. Today, we are blessed to have the mother of all visitations. It takes faith to believe. Faith that the Son of God will not call us back to life only, but call us to eternal life.