“There is no place like home.” There is a lot of truth to this famous phrase from Dorothy as she escapes from OZ. For many of us, there really is no place like home. Home is relaxing and rejuvenating. We are secure and welcome at home. That is what home is supposed to be. This is why sins against the home are so damaging and terrible. When a home becomes a place of fear, isolation, and exhaustion it violates everything it is supposed to be. It was the mentioning of the home that drew my attention in today’s Gospel. After the debate among the Pharisees, it says, “Then each went to his own house.” Why does John give us this detail? Was it a good or bad thing?
In one sense, it is good. Here are people consumed with solving this Jesus conundrum, but they still return home, to their place of belonging and responsibility. When overworking is such a temptation in our society, we are convicted that even the Pharisees put work aside to go home. Also, it humanizes the Pharisees. How can they remain these one-dimensional villains when they have families awaiting them? I might not wear a phylactery, but I have a home. Suddenly, I have something in common with the Pharisees. That common ground stops them from being ‘those people I will never be as bad as’, and rather allows them to help guide me from falling into their same errors. Finally, this speaks to the human need to retreat. We need to withdraw and recoup. Jesus did it by withdrawing for time to pray and we see the Pharisees doing it now. This is a need that modern humanity should not neglect.
In another sense, it could be bad. There is something about the isolationist way John describes the scene. “Then each went to his own house.” It seems to highlight that they are divided and isolated. This becomes more poignant when we read it in light of other scriptures. First, in Matthew, Christ tells his disciples that “foxes have dens… but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” In a sense, here are the foxes returning to their dens. Second, when Christ is asked where he is staying earlier in John, he responds with an invitation, “Come and see.” This welcome is different than the Pharisees isolated withdraw. Finally, on a liturgical note, we should remember that everything we do as public worship contains a sending. We are always sent; from the Mass, from Reconciliation, from Confirmation. We are a people who are sent. These Pharisees were a people who were withdrawn.
There are many options for what John might have intended by putting that little detail in there. Even though we might not know the ‘real one’ on this side of heaven, we should allow this line to examine us today. Are our homes healthy or wounded? Are they a haven of the Lord love or afflicted by division, turmoil, or sin? Are they places of recuperation? Places where we truly live as we are called? Are they a place of welcome or of secrets? Or are they our little castle? Do we retreat behind their walls to bury our heads in the sand or do they strengthen us to go out on mission once more?
The Lord has made his dwelling place with us. May he always be the center and source of life in our homes.