Building a house

At lunch today I sat next to a young man who shared with me his ambition. His first desire was to build his own house for his family, and he knew it would be years before he could do this. To build or own my own house is a sort of rite of passage, a moment when I become fully in charge of my life. I have arrived. Traditionally there were all sorts of initiation rites young people had to endure in order to be accepted into the adult world. In our modern world, perhaps the key event is to become t

Certainly in scripture the establishment of a ‘house’ was seen as a defining event. When King David achieved ‘rest from his enemies,’ (2 Sam: 7) his first thought was to build a house for the Ark of the Lord. The prophet Nathan approved, but God raised the stakes. ‘Are you the man to build me a house? …The Lord will make you a house that will stand secure and be established forever.’ David’s simple desire to build a house for the Ark became a promise that God himself would establish ‘a house’ that would last forever. In John 14 we have those words that have been set to music, mumba maBaba yangu kune dzimba dzakawanda, ‘in my Father’s house there are many places to stay.’

As we approach Christmas this promise to establish a house, a place for us to dwell forever, is repeated. Mary is disturbed by the angel’s greeting (Luke 1:26), but Gabriel insists: ‘you will bear a son and he will be great and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever.’ Students of the human sciences tell us continually that human beings yearn to belong. They want to be in relationship with one another or with others. We learn it from our earliest years. We belong to a family. The greatest suffering a person can have is to have no family. And a family is nearly always identified with a place, a home, a house. Even if my family have moved, I still identify my earliest years with a place. That is where I learnt to live, to explore and to discover.

Having said this, we have to move on and pause at the words ‘there was no room’ for Jesus when he was born (Luke 2:7). He had a family in Nazareth later, but when he was born in Bethlehem he was born in a place where animals are kept for the night.

That was his first ‘house.’ Luke goes on to tell us that during his ministry he is welcomed into the house of Simon the Pharisee (7:36), Mary and Martha his friends (10:38) and Zacchaeus the tax collector (19:1). But his basic comment is that the ‘foxes have holes but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (9:58). As St Alberto Hurtado of Chile, who died only in 1952, once said, ‘Christ stumbles through our streets in the person of so many poor who are hungry, thrown out of their miserable lodgings because of sickness and destitution. Christ has no home!’

So, what kind of house is he building today? Again it is John who gives us the answer, ‘anyone who loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we shall come to him and make a home in him’ (14:23). The house that David wanted to build will indeed last forever but it will be built with ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2:5).

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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