When ‘one of the teachers of religious law said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go” and Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head”’ (Mt 8:19-20), was Jesus saying he didn’t have a permanent abode?
The NT seems to indicate that Jesus based himself in Capernaum (Mk 9:33, 10:1, Lk 7:1, 10:15). I have interpreted this text as saying if you want to follow Jesus you have to be prepared not to settle. Unsettling! The saying, however, is parabolic, Jesus did say, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand” (Mk 4:9).
Could there be another layer of meaning? I notice that the person asking the question was a teacher of religious law. Religious teachers aligned themselves with schools of religious thought. Maybe that’s the key. What if this religious teacher was asking Jesus if he could join his theological house, as an alternative to other houses of rabbinical teaching? We know of the Pharisees, the Sadducees -followers of Zadok, the Essenes, “but Jesus I want to join you and the Jesus-ites. In response, Jesus is saying, “I didn’t come to build another house of philosophy.”
It’s the wrong question. Why is this so important? It is human nature to become tribal; we want to align with an identity. The Corinthian church struggled with it. “Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ” (1 Cor 1:12). Jesus refuses to align, “the son of man has no place even to lay his head.”
More than houses of thought in the church, Jesus refuses to align with houses of thought in humanity. He is saying I did not come to start a house of thought, a religion, be it Christianity, versus Islam, versus Hinduism, versus Buddhism, versus Taoism. The foxes have holes, but I am above that. There is no house. I came for humanity. It is either me or not me.
Today in the 21st C. Christianity we have many houses: Baptists, Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Pentecostal, Charismatics, not to mention the Roman Catholic Protestant divide, then there are the Orthodox and the Coptic churches. Here Jesus is saying, “I am above that.” Is this why I we hear stories of Mormons embracing Jesus, rumours of a church existing within Islam, (where Jesus appears to many in dreams as much more than a prophet), and gay people embracing Jesus? And it messes with our theology. Jesus won’t be contained in a house of thought; he won’t be domesticated into our box. Jesus came for humanity, not to create a religion. The question is, Jesus? Or, not Jesus? Foxes have holes …