Over the last two or three weeks, I have encountered people and blogs claiming Jesus was not homeless. This is not my first time to hear this nor my first response to it. However, I am still surprised by it. I find both the prima facie case AND the thorough analysis compelling which says otherwise. And since I find such a rash of this argument cropping up hither and yon again, I will take a moment to address it again too.
For any readers here truly interested in this argument (and especially my previous response to it), I now provide a link to my previous post on this topic from several years ago. Here it is:
I am not actually interested in restating the things I said before, and so the link above should be considered a supplement to this post. Or, maybe this post is a supplement to that one.
The reason I want to add to what has been said before is because I find those on the other side of this argument offering NEW, as of yet uncontested, evidence for their case. I figure my representation of their position will not exhaust their views or their evidence, but after finding these arguments in random places at random times, AND at first not wishing to respond, I did not take notes. But some of the argument was interesting and did give me cause for pause, and so AFTER reflecting on it for a while, I decided they did need to be addressed. I must give credit to these proponents of the opposition for giving careful, and at some points biblical/historical, consideration to their argument. It was not all kneejerk reaction.
However, I sensed in every presentation that there are underlying political commitments driving the theses offered. It was Christmas time, and even presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg weighed in on Twitter on this topic (however, I am more inclined to be in agreement with Buttigieg’s assessment on this point). Thus, there was an attempt, in my view, to rebut Buttigieg and shore up biblical/Evangelical support for President Trump and his immigration policies.
As often is the case, this dictates a refinement of definitions of key terms used in the arguments. What exactly is “home”? What exactly is “homelessness”? What exactly is a “refugee”? Then we pit these redefined terms against biblical witness. And I must say, that at any given point in the process, depending largely on the skill of the presenter, good points are made in favor of the thesis that Jesus was not homeless.
When we look at modern people suffering homelessness or seeking asylum, there are some major differences between many (if not most) of them and what we find in Jesus, Joseph, and Mary.
Joseph had a job (it SEEMS) as a carpenter. Was probably a skilled carpenter at that. The whole reason they come to Bethlehem is for taxation, which lends credibility to the idea that Joseph is a wage earner. The family was traveling when they arrived at Bethlehem, and so not finding room at the inn does not constitute them as chronically homeless. In fact, taking refuge in the barn is the kind of thing one might expect from family and friends (in fact was likely part of the same structure – under the same roof as the rest of the house as the host) which seems to have been offered to Jesus. Just because the accommodations appear 2-stars rather than 4-star, does not mean these people are street-homeless! Even more, Joseph accepts the offer of this accommodation rather than turning down the help given him. Also, there is no suggestion that Joseph or Mary suffer addiction or mental illness. And finally, the fact that Joseph gathers up his young family and flees to Egypt out of fear for the child’s life does not technically make them refugees since both Egypt and Israel are part of the Roman Empire. This is not the same kind of border crossing as the illegals sneaking into the USA.
Based on these KINDS of observations, some folks are claiming Jesus was not homeless, thus arguments like that of Buttigieg and any Christian claims of the sort which challenge President Trump’s policies are out of line.
Again, I want to give respect to the fact that so much effort is made here to actually consider the Bible! That is huge!!! And I must respectfully respond in kind to such analysis.
However, in my view, this is a lot of hair splitting in service to a political agenda and not really in service to Jesus or to the LOVE of our brothers and sisters (fellow humans) that so characterize the Kingdom of God which Jesus champions.
I really think that if we acknowledge that any given point in this kind of analysis (at least most of them) hold water insofar as they go, we still must step back and soak in the big picture here. For starts, our definitions and characterizations of homelessness and immigration do not have to line up so strictly with the situation Joseph, Mary, and Baby Jesus find themselves in for the overall effect to still apply. Jesus was tempted in every way, but he was sinless; I am tempted in every way but I am a sinner. This does not mean that Jesus and I are so different that we cannot relate. Jesus did, in fact, endure experiences which approximate homelessness like I find on the streets of Lubbock every day! Significant approximation, actually.
These redefinitions are self serving to those arguing them. For instance, I know lots of homeless people who hold down a job! I know lots of homeless people who actually accept accommodations offered to them; not every bum is obstinate about receiving help! And not all homeless people are addicted or mentally ill.
The prima facie case is clear; there was not a regular place for him to lay his head. His parents cleaned out a feed trough, and transformed it into a crib. They had to “make-do” with some spartan accommodations which is all the more shocking when we consider that this is how GOD COMES INTO THE WORLD OF HIS OWN MAKING! Yeah, God is the ultimate carpenter of all of creation! And when he wants to pay his own house (creation) a visit, he is afforded a manger in a barn!
(Also, btw, I would point out that for those stuck at THIS level of Bible study, you are missing out on the deeply theological observation that a manger is where animals feed! Jesus has been giving his body to the animals to feed from birth! Why would we want to miss these implications as we meditate on God’s love?)
That alone is the overwhelming observation the New Testament gives us! To miss this with all your hair splitting is to miss the point!
When you add to this story all the other evidence of the Bible (“Foxes have holes, birds have nests…,” spending the night in the garden (almost like sleeping in the city park), feeding 5000 in the wilderness where they didn’t have enough to eat (barring a miracle), and taking financial support from some women followers), you get a sense that Jesus doesn’t spend much time or energy worrying about tomorrow, but rather trusting God who clothes the lilies and feeds the birds to take care of his needs. And while there are differences between so many of my homeless friends in all of that, there is far, far more there in common between them and Jesus at that level of street-homelessness than there is in the average, Republican-voting, “Christian” home in Lubbock with their spare bedrooms going empty night after night while the “least of these” brothers (aka Jesus himself) sleeps outside on the streets.
Jesus was homeless alright.
He still is.
Think about it.