Nowhere to Lay Your Head Monday Thirteenth Week Ordinary Time 2011

Mass readings for this coming Monday are here

Gospel : Matthew 8 : 18-22

When Jesus saw a crowd around him,
he gave orders to cross to the other shore.

A scribe approached and said to him,
“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus answered him, 

“Foxes have dens 

and birds of the sky have nests,

but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

 Another of his disciples said to him,
“Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”

But Jesus answered him, “Follow me,
and let the dead bury their dead.”


This gospel extract is rich in layers of meaning.

How weary Jesus must have been on several occasions as He went about His ministry and here He is desperately trying to escape the hungry needs and endless expectations of yet another besieging crowd. 

Patently evident in His words here is a longing just to find a place He could go to and nestle down in for a sleep, a warm bed and a feeling of safety; 

a place He could call home: but His home was not on earth, His home was in eternity and maybe , just maybe for a moment I get a sneaky feeling that Jesus might have wanted to go back home.

The over earnest scribe's words  were maybe not that well appreciated at this particular moment.

Yet another excuse of another disciple to delay his committment was met with what could be reasonably taken as a withering and uncaring rebuke. 

“Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”
So what could it mean ?

Admittedly it's easier for me on this side of the cross to see that following Jesus leads to eternal life. 

If Jesus was a little miffed and tired at the way things were going it comes as no surprise; If He was exasperated by the usual total incomprehension and misunderstanding of who and what He was really here for perhaps this aside was a subtle way of registering His discontent.
There were so many spiritually dead but physically alive that he had met in his travels so why not let them have time with their counterparts, the physically dead.

The video below shows the magnificent Paul Newman in the part of stage manager in the Our Town by Thornton Wilder. 
If you don't know the story what follows may not make much sense: you'll have to Google it.

(Incidentally this play has a very special place in my heart as I played the part of George Gibbs when I was at secondary school ! It was an all girls school- and yes, I'm really that old!)

 I stumbled on it and somewhere in the hinterlands of meaning it seemed to resonate with this Gospel passage..

Here the stage manager's detached but vaguely regretful view of life's transience seems to parallel the wry words of Jesus 

"Now there are some things we all know, but we don't take 'em out and look at 'em very often. 
We all know that something is eternal and it ain't houses and it aint names, and it ain't earth and it 'ain't even the stars...

Everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. 

All the greatest people ever lived has been telling us that for 5000 years and yet you'd be surprised how people are always loosing hold of it. 

There's something way down deep that's eternal about every human being. 
 You know as well as I do that the dead don't stay interested in us living people for very long. Gradually gradually, they loose hold of the earth... and the ambitions that they had... and the pleasures they had... and the things they suffered... and the people they loved. 

They get weaned away from earth-that's the way I put it,~ weaned away.
They stay here while that earth part of them burns away, just burns itself out and all that time they're just losing interest in Grover's corners.........."

This part is not in the video but comes much later when Emily Webb, who had died in childbirth comes back to life at her twelfth birthday party to exchange views with other townspeople who have also died.

This line comes from Simon Stimson one of the dead characters :

"Yes now you know. Now you know! That's what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those... of those about you:  to spend and waste time as though you had a million years. 

To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another. Now you know, that's the happy existence you wanted to go back to. 
Ignorance and blindness."

Maybe that's what Jesus was hinting at .

The Song Of The Beggar
Rainer Maria Rilke

I am always going from door to door,
whether in rain or heat,
and sometimes I will lay my right ear in
the palm of my right hand.

And as I speak my voice seems strange as if
it were alien to me,

for I’m not certain whose voice is crying:
mine or someone else’s.

I cry for a pittance to sustain me.
The poets cry for more.

In the end I conceal my entire face
and cover both my eyes;
there it lies in my hands with all its weight
and looks as if at rest,

so no one may think I had no place where-
upon to lay my head.

There is another interesting explanation here of what might have been meant by “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”

Image of foxhole  from here
Poem The Song of The Beggar was taken from here
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