Psalms 136:1, 23-24, 10-12, 13-15
Just returned from a trip with my daughter to visit an older brother in the Washington, D.C. area, I am still luxuriating in the memory of warm and gracious hospitality. Although only two years separate us, I haven’t seen much of Tom over the years. We’ve always seemed to live at some distance from each other, have consistently differed over matters of religion and politics, and—if truth be told—didn’t come from an especially close-knit family in the first place. Despite all of that, the stay with him and wife Kathy could not have been more enjoyable, as they opened their home to us, changed work schedules to chauffeur us back and forth from the capital’s attractions, did not allow our inevitable debate over the Bush Administration to sour the occasion, piled pots, pans and garden produce on my daughter for her new college apartment, and then complained that we were not staying longer.
Today’s readings jolt me from my comfortable reveries of home, hospitality, of the simple joy of being in a place where you are wanted. Rather, these are stories of leaving places that are unfriendly, even hostile and oppressive. First, there is a description of the Exodus, when more than six hundred thousand Jews, enslaved for four centuries in the Egyptian Empire, are let go so suddenly that they have not even time to prepare food for the journey. Then, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus learns of plots against him by the Pharisees, “so he withdrew from that place” to continue elsewhere his ministry, both to Jews and Gentiles. In each instance, missing are the comfort, the security, and the acceptance of home.
Home. That place seemingly so essential to human life and development, that place where, no matter what you’ve done, they have to take you in. And yet home is not the circumstance of so many in our society and world, whether it’s the homeless on the streets of every urban area of the nation, including my own town. Or whether it’s the hundreds of thousands throughout the world, in Guatemala, and Palestine, Macedonia, and Rwanda who have had to flee from the violent hatreds that threatened them. For them, what must life be like without a home?
My prayer today is thus about my own relationship to home. It is a prayer of self-examination. How have I fostered the graces of home among the members of my own family? Do I always and truly accept them back, no matter what they have done? And how have I encouraged home among friends and colleagues? Do I welcome them to my home? Do I appreciate and support them in their efforts to build their own home?
And it is a prayer of gratitude. I am grateful for all the
homes that I myself have enjoyed, and even lost. I am grateful for
all the homes into which I have been welcomed so warmly. And I am
particularly grateful for all the opportunities that God gives me to be
a home-builder in His Kingdom.
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