The homeless king (Matthew 8:20)

When his people are homeless, the Saviour is homeless too.

Open Matthew 8:19-20.

Matthew tells us that people had begun to recognize Jesus’ authority (7:29; 8:9). The king walked among his people, freeing them from their oppression (8:16). He bore their weakness, their dis-ease (8:17).

He was a homeless king (8:20). Ever heard of such a thing? He chose to be homeless as he moved among his people, identifying with them. In a sense, his people were homeless too. They had lost their homeland to foreign powers long ago. When Babylon invaded, so many died trying to defend Jerusalem they couldn’t bury them all, so their dead bodies became food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth (Jeremiah 7:33; 19:7). The birds and the beasts had homes, while God’s people did not.

To restore his people, Jesus would need a completely different tactic. Perhaps these are some of the thoughts Jesus had in mind when he told his followers to leave the dead to bury their own dead (8:22). All these centuries later, the battle for God’s reign on earth was not over. He was the homeless king of the homeless people.

I live in the suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. A couple of years ago, the Perth City Council had a problem with homeless people sleeping in alleyways of the city. They installed sprinklers in the alleys, timed to go off during the night. Problem solved … at least for the ratepayers. Would Lisa Scaffidi (mayor) have chosen that solution if she understood Jesus as a homeless person?

People are homeless for many reasons. For some, living at home is too difficult with mental illness. Others find the streets preferable to violent homes. Others have lost their home, their family, their job, their health, their hope. Millions of Syrians are homeless due to civil war.

Governments respond by protecting their own national interest. They keep displaced people out so they can’t take our jobs and lower our standard of living. It’s called border protection, and it’s designed to ensure the rich nations can stay rich. That approach has no chance of success: the most overwhelming migration in human history has already begun.

But criticising governments or sabotaging their fences and sprinklers doesn’t solve homelessness. Our king calls us to identify with those who are suffering, to bear their pain, to make a practical difference for real people.

“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” said the Bible scholar (8:19). What Jesus said in reply was effectively this: “The world isn’t running right. That’s why I, the human being, am homeless. Do you realize you’ll be homeless too if you go with me?”

Matthew doesn’t tell us how the Bible scholar responded. The question remains for each follower of Jesus to consider. Are you up to following Jesus?


What others are saying

Shirleen Campbell, quoted by ABC News, Domestic Violence: Aboriginal women ask Australians to pay attention to assaults and murders, 11 July 2017:

Aboriginal women living in town camps around Alice Springs marched through the Todd Mall on Tuesday morning, asking the Australian public to pay attention to the assaults and murders of women in their communities. “Enough is enough. We’re not statistics, we’re not numbers, we’re human beings. We’re mums and aunties and grandmothers,” Ms Campbell says.

William Booth, In Darkest England and The Way Out (New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1890), 25:

The houseless Out-of-Work is in one respect at least like Him of whom it was said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.”

The existence of these unfortunates was somewhat rudely forced upon the attention of Society in 1887, when Trafalgar Square became the camping ground of the Homeless Outcasts of London. Our Shelters have done something, but not enough, to provide for the outcasts, who this night and every night are walking about the streets, not knowing where they can find a spot on which to rest their weary frames.

World Vision UK, St Paul’s Cathedral London, 29 July 2017:

These 700 bears represent the 700 children that flee conflict in South Sudan and arrive in Uganda every week.


[previous: Jesus, the son of man]

[next: What’s your view of humans?]

Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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