Nowhere to Lay his Head

Nowhere to Lay his Head

Thirteenth Sunday of the Year. Fr Aidan Nichols preaches on the placelessness of Christ.

In the second part of today’s Gospel we learn that whereas foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. We might see this as simply a reference to Jesus’s itinerant life-style and to his poverty — poverty in the sense, at any rate, of dependence on the largesse of others (chiefly women is the impression St Luke gives in his Gospel). The novelist George Orwell once wrote an autobiographical memoir about sharing the life of tramps, ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’. Does this mean that the Son of Man was ‘Down and Out in Galilee and Jerusalem’?

There is more to it than this. It is highly significant that the Son of Man belongs, apparently, to no place.

When I was studying the writings of Von Balthasar, I came across a useful word in this regard. The Son of Man is ‘a-topic’. He is ‘unplaceable’. He is fundamentally placeless in terms of the geography of this world. And the reason is that the only location where he can be truly at home is the one identified in the Prologue of another Gospel — the Gospel according to St John. There we read that the Son is ‘in the bosom of the Father’, a location no earthly map can identify.

And because that is where he is at — as the only begotten Son he never leaves the Father’s side, it also shows us what he is at, what he is about. He is altogether taken up with the mission the Father has given him, which sends him out wherever — wherever the proclamation of the Kingdom will take him. And in a odd sort of way this enables us actually to predict where he will be in the Father’s creation. He will be where the needs of the world’s redemption require him to be. Above all, it is where love has turned to ice that we can expect to see him.

And this helps make sense, retrospectively, of the first part of today’s Gospel where we twice hear of how Jesus had set his face to go up to Jerusalem. The time was at hand to unmask the false theologies, or ideologies, or political stratagems, which, at Jerusalem, the very heart of the people’s life, were obscuring the Father’s loving plan: the plan to show his mercy and justice through Israel to all the nations.

For the prophecies, it was in Jerusalem that the throne of David was to be established, the true worship celebrated, and the Torah taught in its fullness, so as to prepare the people for another prophet like Moses. So Jerusalem was that place which must be Jesus’s until all things were accomplished.

Beyond the city wall, on Golgotha, the throne of David was established, when Christ reigned from a tree. There the true worship was celebrated in his perfect oblation which glorified the Father and won peace and pardon for the world. There he taught the Torah in its completeness, which is the law of charity for us to learn through the grace of the Cross. The Paschal Mystery, which is always ‘topical’, at any time in the Church’s year, gives us the resolution of the paradox, the riddle of today’s Gospel: the one who had no place on earth had to be at one place in particular.

By his victorious Passion, the One who is ‘a-topic’ throws open to us the only ‘place’ where ultimately, whether we know it or not, we want to be. Our nature is set for God. Homing in on God, the best possible news we can have is that the Son has opened the Father’s house for us.

We all want nice homes, and some of us are looking for perfect communities or absolute utopias. The desire for home, like the wish for a perfect society, is an echo in our being of this impulse towards the place of many mansions. But then again so is our dissatisfaction.

Readings: 1 Kings 19:16,19-21 | Galatians 5:1,13-18 | Luke 9:51-62

fr Aidan Nichols is a well-known and prolific writer and theologian.