I must be naïve, because I really thought this was a foregone conclusion. The message “Jesus Was Homeless” is printed on the back of Fat Beggars School of Prophets tee shirts and spread all over this town. I would have thought that anyone who ever read Matthew 8:20 would plainly accept it. Anyone who ever read Matthew 25:43 might quibble that in fact Jesus still is homeless. But there is a real push out there to say that Jesus was NOT homeless, and I encountered it at the Mahon Library one day when a stranger approached me while I was wearing one of our shirts to condemn me for the message on it. I was stunned.
The man approached, made his comment about how the message was a lie, and then withdrew. He did not come with a reasoned argument to persuade, but merely a jab. I attempted to engage the man in meaningful conversation, but he just slinked off to obscurity. And I thought this was an isolated opinion until I bumped into it on the internet again.
I recently read a post on a site which stated, “Jesus was [NOT] homeless and why it matters.” At least the post made an effort to be reasonable. The author showed a real concern for his position and wanted to persuade others in a reasonable manner. So I looked at it carefully. The post expressed two arguments: 1) that the statement “Jesus was homeless” is inaccurate because we know that Jesus lived with Peter in Capernaum in a fisherman’s hut (Mark 2:1) and 2) the statement “Jesus was homeless,” in that blogger’s opinion, “romanticizes poverty.”
Since that post was in fact reasonable, I thought I should post a reasonable defense of the statement “Jesus was homeless” since I remain unchanged in my opinion.
First, I am aware that Jesus had a place to stay in Capernaum. And it so happens he crashed at Peter’s house. Apparently, Jesus was welcome to live there long-term and/or frequently. I have no idea whether the house had a deed and whose name would have been on it. But I suspect it was either owned or rented in Peter’s name. Nevertheless, this argument does not settle the matter at all, as far as I can see.
At one level, it is a matter of semantics. At a slightly higher level, it is a matter of proof-texting – for after all, even Luke tells us that when Jesus was born, “there was no room in the inn” and the child was “laid in a manger” (Luke 2:7). This strongly suggests Jesus was born homeless, even if briefly and not as a matter of chronic homelessness. Let’s not forget that Jesus as a newborn/youngster lived as a refugee in Egypt (Matt. 2:13).
But at a much richer level, a theological level, Jesus represents God the Father in a unique way, and this is the same God of whom King David said, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within tent curtains” (II Sam. 7:2) This is David’s first order of domestic business when his kingdom rule is established: Build a HOUSE for God. Of course, if you have read that story, you know that God tells David that he cannot build a house for God, but God will build a dynasty for David – AND – that David’s Son will build a HOUSE of God. Then as the story unfolds, King Solomon builds a temple for God. But it is a temple that eventually gets judged and destroyed. However, the New Testament writers pick up this theme and characterize Jesus as the Son of David and as the Carpenter who will build the HOUSE of God using stones not made with hands – stones being sons (see Eph. 2:19-22, among others).
I only provide a very thin thumbnail sketch here of a rich theological argument, but it lays the groundwork for a very reasonable case that Jesus WAS homeless. And when coupled with Matthew 25:35 where Jesus associates himself with strangers that you might take in, we could easily make the jump to say that Jesus IS still homeless today. All of this on theological grounds!
Of course the blogger also said that he does not want to “romanticize poverty.” And I think this is the ground from which his case springs. He does not want to associate Jesus too closely with modern street people who are somehow beneath his contempt. I, on the other hand, want to do exactly that thing. And so in a very real sense, this is where the argument actually arises.
Jesus has been associated with the poor, the afflicted, and the scorned ever since Isaiah penned chapter 53. And of course that is the grounding of the scandal of the Gospel. We don’t want to see Jesus in the muck we find contemptuous. And certainly not when we hold contempt for people we think should live their lives better than they do. Homelessness lives right square in the middle of American contempt. That is why, in my opinion, we want to say that Jesus was NOT homeless.
And I think it matters, because there are only a handful of warnings about Judgment on the lips of Jesus in the Gospels. They make up a very short list: Don’t blaspheme the Holy Spirit, forgive or else you will not be forgiven, and treat the poor like you would treat Jesus or else you can stand with the goats and go into destruction. Thus, this stuff matters.
Going farther yet, this really matters because Jesus wants to live in your heart. Your heart is his HOME. The question is: Does Jesus live in your heart? And of course the follow-up question I would add to that is: How can you ask Jesus into your heart but not ask a homeless man (think Matt. 25:35) into your guest bedroom tonight?