The Gospel for Mass this past Saturday contains one line that deserves some attention from us. At one level it seems like a mere scene-ender, a line that merely ends a section and has the dramatis personae (cast of characters) walk of stage. But as most who have any familiarity with Scripture know, there is perhaps not one wasted syllable in the whole text, especially in John’s Gospel. Quite profoundly, there is not one word or syllable that should be merely cast aside as filler when the Holy Spirit is at work inspiring the sacred authors.
The line in question appears in the 7th Chapter of John’s Gospel at the end of a debate among the Temple leaders as to the identity of Jesus. They wrestle with the question of who Jesus is and if he is or is not the coming Messiah, and also the eternal Son of the Father as he claims.
The majority of the interlocutors reject Jesus out of hand based on mistaken notions and due to the fact that he comes from Galilee and “no Prophet has EVER come from Galilee! One of their number, Nicodemus, encourages them to be more open to the possibilities and have greater command of the facts before rendering judgement. After much debate the pericope (passage) ends thus:
Then each went to his own house. (John 7:53)
This line ought not be overlooked, since, if we allow it, it invites great significance. Let’s consider three ways of seeing this line. We can distinguish here three rather separate understandings: an inward meaning, and outward meaning and an eternal meaning.
1. At the inward level each one returning to his own house can be understood as descriptive of how we must ultimately enter into the “house” of our our soul. We must all go to that deep, inner room of our heart and mind, that place were we are alone with our God, that place were we ponder and reflect, where we deliberate and discern.
This is that place where we must ultimately decide for ourselves the deepest questions of life: who am I? Who is God? What is the meaning of my life? What am I doing and why. Who is the man (or woman) that God has made me to be? Yes, here is that deep inner sanctum, the holy place where we are alone with God.
Too often, when we are with others, there is posturing by us. Too easily do we merely seek to conform in response to pressure and other social influences. In these sorts of settings there is often undue influence from persuasion or excessive human respect, from group pressure and group dynamics. In a word, there is posturing.
But there comes a moment when we are summoned by the Lord to come apart, to go to our own house, to enter into that quiet place of our innermost self and answer the deeper questions, and listen carefully to voice of God that echoes in our heart. (cf Catechism # 1776).
In the cited Gospel above, the Temple leader have had their debate. They have sought to influence one another. Some have experienced pressure and persuasive argumentation. Many of them also likely experienced the human tendency to ingratiate themselves to others and to fit in by speaking in certain ways they perceive will advance them in the opinion of others.
Now all that posturing is over and it is time for each man to go, each to his own house and there privately ponder and decide what he really thinks. Yes, it is decision time. The Lord is calling a question: who do YOU say that I am? It is time for these men to go to their own house and be face to face with God.
Sadly today, many reject this requirement to “go to our own house” and to deeply reflect. Most take little time today to enter the room of their own soul. In our modern world, with its extensive distractions, most prefer to flip on the T.V. rather to “go to their own house.”
But ultimately we cannot wholly evade this call from God to decide inwardly, in that inner room of our own “house” who God is, and how we will respond to him. For those who go on too long refusing to go to their own house, God has ways of supplying it anyway. Maybe its one of those sleepless at 3:00 AM moments. Maybe it is a time of crisis that provokes soul searching. But ultimately, at some moment each of us must “go to his own house” that there reflect quietly with God, away from social pressures, away from posture. And there we, alone with God must face the deepest questions.
2. At the outward level, this text involves a very different perspective, an insight that is almost opposite. For, while it is of critical importance to go to that secret place, that house of our own soul and there reflect with God, it is also of critical importance to stay connected to the reality that is outside our house. Thus, in saying that each of the Temple leaders went off to his own house, there may also be understood the human tendency to go off and live in our own little world, to retreat for any evidence we don’t like, to avoid anything that challenges our worldview.
Jesus had earlier confronted these Temple leaders with evidence of his divinity and his identity as Messiah and Lord. He spoke to them of his miracles, of his fulfillment of prophecy, of the Testimony of John the Baptist, and of the Father’s voice echoing in their hearts. (cf John 5:31-47).
But for many of us there is the tendency merely to retreat to our own little world, our own house, no matter the evidence. In effect we retreat from reality to our own made up world.
There is an old saying, “Don’t Believe everything you think.” For, we tend to think something is so just because we think it or agree with it.
There is another saying, “Who is an adviser to himself has a fool for a counselor.” Yet too easily we take counsel merely with our self. Or, we surround ourselves only with teachers who tickle our ears.
Thus, these Temple leaders, though having been confronted with many facts that point to the veracity of Jesus’ identity as Lord and Messiah, choose instead to brush it off and merely to go each of them to his own house, his own little world.
Further they err with the facts, for they argue that the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem, but Jesus was born in Galilee. But of course their command of the facts is poor here, for Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
Never mind all that, they just go off to their own house, to their own little world. And too often many do exactly this.
The challenge for us all to live in reality, not merely in the confines of our own house, our own little world, our own (sometimes flawed or incomplete) thoughts.
3. The Third and eternal implication is the ultimate home, the ultimate destination to which we all journey. Thus when the text says they all went each to his own house, it may also refer to that place where they will dwell for all eternity. Where that house is, in heaven or hell, depends on our stance regarding Jesus.
These Temple leaders, having scoffed at Jesus, now head off each to their home. Sadly, no one comes to the Father except through Jesus, and thus their home is somewhere other than the heart of the Father.
There is an old saying, “You made your bed, now lie in it.” And thus, you and I too must choose where to make our home. And where that is will depend on our acceptance or rejection of Jesus.
There comes a day when each of us will have said of us: Then each went to his own house. Where will your house be?
Somehow I am reminded of an old song from my youth about that secret place of the heart: