I’ve seen it more than once now: Jesus was homeless. The latest instance of that claim is in a blog post this week by fellow PC(USA) minister Mark Sandlin. Making the point that we can’t forget those without shelter this Christmas, Sandlin writes:  “Throughout his life Jesus would spend his ministry with no place to lay his head. This time of year we celebrate a homeless man”  (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thegodarticle/2014/12/10-things-christians-shouldnt-do-at-christmas/). I commend the article in general to you, but Sandlin may need to look at other biblical evidence before contending that Jesus was homeless.

The text he’s referring to is Matthew 8:20 (// Luke 9:58), in which Jesus responds to a would-be disciple by telling him that “foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” From that we get the idea that Jesus wandered around the countryside, presumably with the Twelve and others, spending the night out in the open, eating what he could find, with no roots or responsibilities other than preaching the gospel and healing (which, granted, are pretty huge tasks).

The evidence from Matthew and Mark point to a different reality, though. Matthew says Jesus made his home in Capernaum (Matthew 4:13). Mark reports that when Jesus came home one day, after being gone for a time, crowds gathered at his door, and some men cut a hole in his roof and lowered a disabled man on his bed (Mark 2:1ff). So Jesus did have a home that he was either buying or renting. At the very least he had a room somewhere in the structure, presumably with kitchen privileges.

We also learn from Mark (6:3) that Jesus had a trade, and maybe therefore a job. As has often been said, he was a carpenter. Maybe somewhere in his home in Capernaum he had a workshop.

So it seems to me that Jesus’ statement that he had nowhere to lay his head has to be interpreted in light of clear texts that tell us Jesus put down roots in a particular place. I believe he was speaking in hyperbole to make a point, and that he meant he really didn’t belong anywhere. He was but a sojourner, a stranger on the earth even though he did in fact have a bed and a pillow in a warm dwelling. He was not attached to anything, but could lose it all willingly for the kingdom of God.

Caring for those without shelter is good and right and our calling from God. Jesus told us to care for “the least of these.” But we can’t base our ministry on the belief that Jesus himself was literally homeless.

Progressives complain all the time about how conservatives misuse scripture for their own ends. Those on the left lose a bit of credibility, though, when they do the same thing, no matter how good the cause.

© 2014 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.