19 Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.”
20 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.”
In the time of Jesus, it was a well-established tradition that an itinerant rabbi would travel the roads and towns of Judea with a small flock of disciples at his heels. The privilege of learning from a wise teacher was well worth the wear and tear on one’s sandals and pride, and so a desiring scribe or rabbi-to-be would gladly swear himself to follow such a teacher wherever he would go. Eventually, one might hope to inherit the robe of the teacher, thus being chosen to carry on his teachings, becoming then the one leaving dust on the disciples at his heels. Some few teaching rabbis did not travel but stayed attached to some synagogue or temple, but generally the expectation was that a great teacher would travel, and if you wanted to learn from him, you would travel, too.
So it is no surprise when a scribe approaches Jesus and says, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” In fact, there were probably dozens of such scribes in our Lord’s amorphous mob of followers. Besides the chosen apostles and the men and women healed by Jesus and the Twelve, the group that followed Jesus no doubt included more than a few curious onlookers, Pharisees, Saducees, scribes, Romans, and, of course, some of Jesus’ family. Aside from the Twelve and the healed ones, people would drift in and out of the group, probably staying for a town or two and then missing their homes or their families. Some would hear His teachings and be confused by the parables (a well-known rabbinic tradition) and so rather than wait and learn some more, they would return home. As recorded by the apostle John, some were discouraged by His hardest teachings and left Him then. (John 6:60-66) Other than the true witnesses of Jesus’ power and wisdom, only the most “hardcore” scribes would stick with such a radical teacher, and Jesus knew that.
But when Jesus replies that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head,” He is saying much more than what we might first think. Yes, rejected by His own home town of Nazareth, Jesus doesn’t have a home there. And being a traveling preacher, Jesus rarely is spoken of as sleeping in a house – although it is pretty clear that for a while He did stay with Simon Peter’s family in Capernaum, and he returned more than once to stay with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. However, there are some more things to consider as we read “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
First, we should consider that Jesus often speaks of His coming crucifixion. When hanging on a cross, there truly is no place to lay His head. But more than that, the Cross is not a place that many would be willing to follow Him. Had they known then, had they but listened and taken Him seriously when He spoke of His death, I think few of His camp followers would have followed Him very far. Most listened to “Take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 10:38 etc.)and figured it must simply be a figure of speech. Many today still use that phrase lightly, speaking of having their own “cross to bear.” But Jesus was being literal, essentially saying to them that they can expect to travel the exact same road He was traveling: no home, no bed, few friends, and a painful death at the end.
Another thought we should consider about “nowhere to lay His head” is that Emmanuel (“God with us”) had found no home among His own people. In ancient days, God had visited His chosen leaders and prophets in Person, and from the time of the Exodus He had come to them wherever the Ark of Testimony was kept – whether in a traveling tabernacle or in the stone and cedar temple of Jerusalem. But in recent times, Yahweh had not visited His chosen people, and more than a few prophets since the Babylonian captivity had spoken out against Israel’s rebellious ways. While the Jews had certainly stood up for the temple during the first Roman occupation of Jerusalem thirty years before Jesus, since that time the temple and the region had fallen into decadence and decay. God had nowhere to rest among His own people in the very land He had given them.
“Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests” because God provides them. But who shall provide a home for God and His Holy Spirit when He comes? Where is the temple, the tabernacle, the tent wherein the glory of the Lord Most High can reside? We who are so attentive to Jesus’ teachings, are we ready to leave behind comfort and home to become the dwelling place of the Son of Man? Like the scribe in today’s verses, we say we will follow Jesus wherever He goes. But are we really ready to step up against the Romans and Pharisees of this age? Are we ready to face trials and troubles, dusty roads and divided families, persecution and rejection just for Him? For if we so allow, God will inhabit our very hearts through the Holy Spirit, and then we can expect to live the same life as His Son: rejected by His own town and family, persecuted by His own priests, and slain by His enemies. However, if we so allow God’s Spirit to rest in us, we can also expect the reward that follows: to be raised from the dead, whole and hale, ready to offer worship and praise to the One whose dwelling place we have been.
Lord God, all honor and praise are Yours. Thank You for the blessings of Your Spirit that You have poured out into our hearts and lives through Your Son, Christ Jesus. Purify my heart, O Lord, and sanctify my mind, that I may always be a suitable vessel for Your will and Your Spirit. Amen.