In the Gospel of Luke a story is told of Jesus visiting Nazareth, the town he grew up in. One day he found himself in the local synagogue reading to the elders from the Sacred Writings. At the conclusion of his reading from the prophet Isaiah he declares himself to be the fulfillment of the hopes of Israel. He informs the elders that he indeed is the Chosen One of God; the Messiah. The elders react in shock, horror, anger, and disbelief. How could this Jesus, the one everyone knew to be the son of Joseph the carpenter, announce such a scandalous thing? They wanted to kill him. Jesus then is impelled to assert that no one is a prophet in his (her) home-town. And so it was that Jesus could work few miracles among the people of Nazareth.
For me, this “coming home story” has a familiar ring to it. For many years in my adulthood I had occasions to return to my home and family. And I came home then as a person steeped in the intellectual life, either as a graduate student or college professor. I thus felt that my acumin and knowledge as a sociologist had earned me the right to speak with authority and insight. You could say that I had more than my share of hubris.
However, to my family for whom the world of academia was rather remote, I was thought of as simply “Jimmy” who comes home now and then. I was the eldest of five siblings, and warmly welcomed home, but I was accorded no special esteem, honor or privilege. There was no room in that inn for my erudition, or sociological wisdom. Rather, I was quickly drawn into the family dramas and intrigues that occurred in my absences. And these family matters were often discussed as we gathered around the kitchen table drinking beer and nibbling on Colby cheese and soda crackers. And later in the evening I slept with my three younger brothers in the upstairs well-used dormer that had always and forever been “the boys” sleeping quarters. And we would crack silly jokes and tell stories long into the night.
Oh, I could work no miracles of insight or intellectual feats among my family. But, over time, I grew to appreciate the family bonds that we shared, the old stories we recalled, and still more the pleasure it gave me to be embraced in the hot blasts of their love toward me. There was never a need for a sociologist. My family was most comfortable with me as merely one of the boys, no more or less loved.
If you are a reader as I am of the weekly Putnam County obituaries published in the Banner- Graphic, you often read of a deceased loved one being “called home to their Heavenly Father.” I used to consider such references to the Heavenly Father as rather trite and stale. However, now that I am in my dotage and ever closer to my own obituary in the Banner-Graphic, I have changed my thinking. If it comforts families to think of their deceased loved ones being called home to Heaven, what is the harm? In truth, I don’t know with assurance what happens after we die. But the idea of returning home may be just as good as any other. The Catholic writer Thomas Merton once said, that we come from God, have our being in God, and at our death we return to God. In other words, we are forever within the embrace of God. I would like to think that Merton was right. That at my death I will return to God. And as a bonus, find myself in a Heavenly dormer, looking around, with great hope, for my brothers.