It is commonly believed that Jesus was homeless during his earthly ministry. Some of the most famous sayings, books, movies, and paintings picture him that way. The most common reason for that is likely Matthew 8:20. Jesus said, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” People assume Jesus must have been homeless because he had no place to lay his head. Wouldn’t that describe a homeless person after all?
Pope Francis visited St. Patrick’s Church and Homeless Shelter in Washington D.C. during his first trip to the United States as Pope. He made several references to the homeless during his speech there. “Joseph had to face some difficult situations in his life. One of them was the time when Mary was about to give birth, to have Jesus. The Bible tells us that, ‘while they were [in Bethlehem], the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.’ The Bible is very clear about this: there was no room for them. I can imagine Joseph, with his wife about to have a child, with no shelter, no home, no place to stay. The Son of God came into this world as a homeless person. The Son of God knew what it was to start life without a roof over his head. We can imagine what Joseph must have been thinking. How is it that the Son of God has no home? Why are we homeless, why don’t we have housing? These are questions which many of you may ask daily. Like Saint Joseph, you may ask: Why are we homeless, without a place to live? These are questions which all of us might well ask. Why do these, our brothers and sisters, have no place to live? Why are these brothers and sisters of ours homeless? Joseph’s questions are timely even today; they accompany all those who throughout history have been, and are, homeless.”
Jesus does have a heart for the poor. Much of his ministry was to the poor. “So whenever you give to the poor and do acts of kindness, do not blow a trumpet before you [to advertise it], as the hypocrites do [like actors acting out a role] in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored and recognized and praised by men. I assure you and most solemnly say to you, they [already] have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor and do acts of kindness, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing [give in complete secrecy] so that your charitable acts will be done in secret; and your Father who sees [what is done]in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-4). “The blind receive [their] sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed [by healing] and the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:5). “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me (the Messiah), because He has anointed me to preach the Good News to the poor” (Luke 4:18a). “But when you give a banquet or a reception, invite the poor, the disabled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous (the just, the upright)” (Luke 14:13-14). “Go out quickly into the streets and the lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and the disabled and the blind and the lame” (Luke 14:21b). Jesus spent a lot of time talking about and focusing His ministry on helping the spiritually, materially, and physically poor. Certainly, none fit the description of materially poor any better than the homeless. Was Jesus homeless though?
One of the essential basics of studying the Bible is to compare Scripture with Scripture. Many people say things like, “Well everyone has their own interpretation of the Bible.” That’s the problem. We should allow the Bible to interpret itself rather than coming up with our own interpretation of the Bible. We can do that by comparing Scripture with Scripture and allow the Bible to be its own commentary. We see that Jesus was not homeless when we use this principle with Matthew 8:20. He did have an earthly home. “Jesus returned to Capernaum, and a few days later the news went out that He was at home” (Mark 2:1). “And leaving Nazareth, He went and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the country of Zebulun and Naphtali” (Matthew 4:13).
So what does Matthew 8:20 mean Jesus said he had no place to lay his head. Pastor Dave Barnhart of Saint Junia United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Alabama wrote on May 30, 2013, “In the Hebrew Bible, referring to “laying one’s head down” usually means being able to do so in peace, as in Psalm 23, Psalm 4:8, and the different animals lying down together in Isaiah 11:6-7 and Hosea 2:18. Sleeping an untroubled sleep is a gift from God. Foxes and birds to not live in their respective shelters—it’s where they go to be safe. The would-be disciple is warned that following Jesus means perpetual danger, sleeping with one eye open, always on the run. This warning is spoken by a marked man who has a price on his head.” Jesus was speaking about always being in danger everywhere he went. Anyone who dared to be seen with him and who dared declared themselves to be his follower would be in that same danger. It did not mean that Jesus was homeless.