Nowhere to Rest His Head
by Rev. Steven G. Oetjen
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
When the days for Jesus' being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?" Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village. As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, "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."
An enthusiastic disciple approaches Jesus in today’s Gospel and proclaims, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus responds briefly, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”
The desire to follow Jesus unconditionally, wherever he goes, is exactly the stuff discipleship is made of. So, this man’s enthusiastic proclamation must have been pleasing to Our Lord. But Jesus also wanted to make sure this disciple knew the implications of such a proclamation. If you follow Jesus wherever he goes, it just might be uncomfortable and wearisome at times. You might end up, like the Son of Man, with no place to rest your head.
This saying may cause you and me to wonder — and perhaps worry — about why we seem to be allowed the comforts of pillows and beds while the man in the Gospel apparently wasn’t. What exactly does the saying mean for us? Last Friday’s solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus provides us a little hint. The place where we, disciples of Jesus, ought to rest our heads is first and foremost near his most Sacred Heart. Recall how, at the Last Supper (Jn 13:23), John was reclining his head near the heart of Jesus, or literally, “on the bosom of Jesus” (“in sinu Jesu”). And a similar phrase in the prologue of John’s Gospel tells us where Jesus rested his head: “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father (in sinu Patris), he has made him known” (Jn 1:18). The disciple rested his head on the bosom of the Son, who exists eternally in the bosom of the Father.
The Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head. That is, no place on earth. Foxes and birds do have dwelling places here on earth, because they are made for this earth. Not so for the Son of Man. His home is with the Father. And that is the home into which he invites his disciples as well. “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (Jn 14:2).
Even before we begin to follow Christ, we may experience profound dissatisfaction with the things of this world. We desire them, but they never fully satisfy us. Our existence can be a frustrating paradox. But when we do follow Christ, especially when we do so unconditionally (“I will follow you wherever you go”), our existence begins to make sense. We realize that the things of this world do not fully satisfy us because we are not made for this world. God created us for something much greater, and he invites and draws us toward that everlasting life with him.
We are drawn deeper and deeper into that love, even though it is sometimes uncomfortable and wearisome. It demands sacrifice, indeed, the whole of ourselves. Despite all of the difficulties, we are drawn by the love of the Triune God. It becomes the treasure we desire more than anything else. Any other resting place for our heads besides the bosom of Jesus becomes less and less attractive.
In his “Confessions,” St. Augustine describes a conversation he had with his mother about a week before her death. The two were standing at a window overlooking the garden in the courtyard of the house in Ostia, enrapt in conversation about their longing for heaven. He describes what St. Monica admitted to him and what it made him realize: “But you know, O Lord, that in the course of our conversation that day, the world and its pleasures lost all their attraction for us. My mother said: ‘Son, as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure.’ ” She had gotten all she wanted out of this life, namely, the conversion of her son to the Catholic faith. Nothing more appealed to her here on earth. She was ready for heaven.
Of course, there always remains the danger for us that we don’t develop that longing for heaven because we are too attached to the things of earth. So many things can become for us a place where we prefer to rest our heads, an “escape” from the demands of love and the difficulties of discipleship. May the words of our Savior sink in ever more deeply: “The Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”