Peace and Place: The Son of Man is Homeless and Rejected
Deuteronomy 3:12-20 (abbreviated)
As for the land that we took possession of at that time, I gave to the Reubenites and Gadites the territory north of Aroer… and I gave to the half-tribe of Manasseh the rest of Gilead and all of Bashan… At that time, I charged you as follows: “Although the Lord your God has given you this land to occupy, all your troops shall cross over armed as the vanguard of your Israelite kin. Only your wives, your children, and your livestock—I know that you have much livestock—shall stay behind in the towns that I have given to you. When the Lord gives rest to your kindred, as to you, and they too have occupied the land that the Lord your God is giving them beyond the Jordan, then each of you may return to the property that I have given to you.”
Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and said to them, “You have observed all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, and have obeyed me in all that I have commanded you; you have not forsaken your kindred these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the Lord your God. And now the Lord your God has given rest to your kindred, as he promised them; therefore turn and go to your tents in the land where your possession lies, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan.
The first text you read here is the account of Moses and the Israelites first coming into the “promised land.” And for all the challenges I face reading these texts of “promised land” because they are texts of displacement (and killing) of the people that were already there… still I find words of grace in them. What happens here in this Deuteronomy text is that 2 ½ of the 12 tribes of Israel are given ancestral lands. They are, by all accounts, done. They have what they need. But that isn’t what they are told. They are told they are not done until EVERYONE has what they need. They may not rest in the land until everyone has land… everyone has place. And so they must continue to strive alongside their brothers and sisters to secure home for them until they may enjoy their home.
In the second text that dream is realized… they have found home. They all have found homes… those who achieved early may finally rest on those laurels because all have finally achieved their purpose: home/place.
I love this idea. I love that this idea reminds us that we cannot simply look out for ourselves in life. Our goal is communal. We achieve together, or we all fall. I cannot – by the basis of scripture – seek my own success apart from the achievement of the goal of the WHOLE. In the biblical ethic it would be immoral to rest in my comfort when a neighbor (beloved or despises; near or far) is in discomfort or is displaced.
Let me repeat that: by the ethic of Holy Scripture it is immoral to be content with our own comfort when anyone else is denied such comfort on any grounds.
And then I get to another message that always haunts my own discipleship (my own wrestling – thus the name of my blog space). The message of Deuteronomy/Joshua is driven home much later in a different time and slightly different place by the person of Jesus. It’s an easily looked over passage and yet I find it profoundly important. It is slightly after the initiation of the “Journey” section of the Gospel of Luke. Jesus starts that section when he “turns his head towards Jerusalem.” Everything that follows is about a journey to the cross, to death, to resurrection. And shortly after this journey is commenced Jesus has three invitational moments to discipleship. I should say three abortive moments (the later portion of Luke 9). In each case Jesus either turns it down or puts a condition on that discipleship the would-be disciple is not ready for. All three together combine for a sense of unsettledness and challenge. But the first one intrigues me because I see a direct link from it to Deuteronomy 3 and Joshua 22.
“As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Now I cannot say for certain what Jesus is thinking, I do not actually know the mind of God. But I wonder if Jesus isn’t enacting his own moment of saying that he cannot rest until everyone has a place to rest. The Son of Man cannot have a place until all people are granted place. Jesus is homeless. And will be homeless until all God’s people have homes. Jesus is rejected, and remains rejected until all people are accepted. Because Jesus resides in everyone… and the fate of one person is the fate of Jesus.
I find this a powerful moment of solidarity. I also find it a moment of clarity of purpose. I wish to follow in the way of Jesus – I too am a would-be disciple. I would, and have, left some of my family behind – though it isn’t always easy. I am not willing to let the dead bury themselves, and I do have a place of rest I call home. So my identity as follower of Jesus is not 100%… but I still follow in those ways I am willing. And my mission is clear. I must not to rest as if I am concerned about my own well-being. I am to be concerned for the well-being of all. I am to “not rest” until all may rest. (Okay, you may want to call this part one and stop reading here… but I felt I had to keep going, so if you are still with me, let’s go a bit further.)
I’m struck this day as I know that friends are being arrested one block away from me for their advocacy of those who have been rejected over and over again… and I know where Jesus stands – with them, and for them. And I’m not there. Today I’m being comfortable. It makes me wonder if I would have marched with Martin Luther King Jr… or been one of the pastors writing him in jail telling him to slow down, be quiet, and gives justice some time to develop…. I hate that I think I’m probably the latter. I don’t challenge you to follow Jesus way as one who is good at doing it. Far too often I am doing far too little… and that doesn’t sit well with me. But I continue to wrestle. I continue to follow… and I’m on my journey and, I think, growing into such discipleship step by baby-step.
This kind of growing in rest-less-ness and advocacy for those who have no rest, place/home/affirming welcome may seem like an insurmountable burden… but, it isn’t really. So many of the problems of our world are far less complex and far easier to solve than we wish to imagine they are. If we imagine that they are “hard” then we get off the hook for not making the sacrifices necessary to solve them. The moment we admit that we actually can solve them… well then we either have to do so, or admit that the real problem is that we aren’t willing to do so.
And that is the rub isn’t it? We don’t want to solve the problems. We imagine that the cost to our own comfort is too high. So we do not. We look the other way and hope someone else will do or that it will go away… sometimes we even push it away. But it isn’t gone – its only been displaced even further from hearth and home.
Over the last year or so I have come to learn more and more about issues of homelessness thanks to my role as a Board member of a nonprofit group that houses homeless families. What I have learned? It would not take much investment to effectively irradiate homeless, even for the majority of the chronic homeless population. The problem is not resources available or complexity to the job. The problem is that we simply aren’t interested (or not enough of us are). We refuse to admit or be convinced that it can be done and so we won’t do it. I am struck by how often people will bring up that there are some people who want to be homeless. Sure. Right. I will grant that. There are also people whose personal psychology has gotten to a point where they want to be sick. This doesn’t mean we don’t treat sick people or we don’t have medical care as an option for people. This doesn’t even mean to do not try to address all of the various illness of that particular person – it simply means their particular care will be longer and more challenging than the average case. That some people, for whatever psychological reason, wish to be chronically homeless is absolutely NO EXCUSE for not addressing the systemic causes of the vast majority of homelessness including lack of affordable housing, lack of medical care, lack of job opportunity and adequate compensation, and the perpetuation of criminalizing poverty in our country.
I have also learned much more about the fight for equal rights of gay and transgender people. I did an interview with a reporter on Friday who asked why this community will not comprise on what they are asking for in being added as a protected group in the Idaho Human Rights Act. The argument is why won’t they settle for being protected in their jobs and homes but allow small business owners to still discriminate against serving them (see footnote below for more on this). It seems rationale right? Make the first step and then work on the next… But what this is saying is that we will only give them 2/3rds rights. Admitting, as the legislature’s committee did, the vulnerability this community experiences daily, but refusing to make sure to protect their full human rights as we have done with other vulnerable communities in the past is to say that they are only 2/3rds human. We see the need – but we won’t do it, because we value our own comfort and rest more than their lives and place.
It is for reasons like these that the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. It is for reasons like these that he Son of Man is rejected by the religious and political authorities… over and over and over again. Because the Son of Man will not rest – until all may rest. And the Son of May is rest-less in provocative and prophetic ways.
Until we are willing to house all people, and treat everyone as possessed of human dignity to be protected and nurtured than we actively oppose the life of Jesus… we are actively forcing him out to the streets… we are the reason he has nowhere to lay his head. We are not called to secure our place in the world. We are called to secure place in this world for all people. And there is room enough, resources enough, energy enough, and mind-power enough to figure that out… all we need is will to do so. So… is there WILL in the world for peace and place for all? Will we come together across our various interests and agendas and partner for a world to have peace and place? I most surely hope so.
In fact, I stake my life on it. Will you?