Fifth Sunday of Easter A
What’s the most important work in the world? That, of course, depends on your criteria. If we look at how much money people get paid, we’d have to say that movie stars, music makers, and professional athletes do the most important work in the world. A better argument might be made for doctors, who cure and comfort the sick—who are among the very first and the very last people we see in life. Having grown up on a farm, I could say that farmers do the most important work: if there were no farmers, there’d be no food, if there were no food, we wouldn’t be able to eat; if we couldn’t eat, we’d all be pretty cranky…and it would quickly go down hill from there. One might also make the case that priests do the most important work, since without the priesthood we wouldn’t have the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist or our sins forgiven in Confession.
Have you ever heard of C. S. Lewis? He was an Irish-born writer—the author of the classic book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—who taught at Oxford University. He was one of the keenest Christian minds of the 20th century. One might have expected him to say that professors do the most important work in the world. But when Mrs. Johnson sent him a letter in 1955 complaining that a housewife’s work was never-ending and felt like it was going absolutely nowhere, he gave a reply that was surprising then—and is even more surprising now, 60 years later: that the work of a housewife (or, as we’d say today, of a homemaker), “is surely in reality the most important work in the world.”
If Mr. Lewis were introduced to a woman and asked what she did for a living, and her reply was, “Oh, I’m just a stay-at-home-mom,” I have no doubt he’d be quite distressed. He’d be distressed, not that her career options were limited, but that she didn’t recognize the great dignity and nobility of her lofty, God-given vocation.
In his letter, C. S. Lewis writes:
[Being a homemaker] is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, miners, cars, government etc exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr. Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour”. (1st to be happy, to prepare for being happy in our own real home hereafter: 2nd in the meantime to be happy in our houses.) We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist. (Letter to Mrs. Johnson, March 16, 1955)
That’s a different perspective than we’re used to, right? Here’s another novel idea: that Jesus spoke of himself as a homemaker. Did you catch it in this Sunday’s gospel? Jesus says, “In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” Jesus makes a solemn promise—in the midst of his Last Supper—to make a home for us.
That gospel passage is one of those most commonly chosen to be read at Catholic Funerals—and for obvious reasons, given its very comforting message. But when Jesus first spoke those words, his disciples wouldn’t have thought about death; they would have thought about a wedding. In order to better understand what Jesus is saying, we need to know a little bit about the wedding customs of the day.
Nowadays—despite Church teaching and countless studies to the contrary—it’s most common for people to live together for a while before they get married. In the time of Jesus, however, it was exactly the opposite: a couple would get married, and then it would be a while before they moved in together. You see, a man and a woman would first be betrothed. That was much more than a simple engagement: they exchanged vows, and were considered legally married. (If the relationship broke up, they would have to get a divorce.) Then the husband had up to a year to prepare a place for his new wife. He’d return to his father’s house, and spend his time and resources to build or renovate a room for her—the very best he could provide. And only when everything was ready would he come to take her home, to start their new life together and man and wife. And only then would they have the wedding feast: their relatives and the whole community celebrating that a new family was making its home.
Knowing that, let’s listen again to the words of Jesus: “In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” Do you now hear what he’s saying? Jesus wants to be one with us just as husband and wife become one—just as he is one with the Father. He wants to share his whole life with us! He’s proven that by laying it down for us. He has vowed to love us freely, fruitfully, faithfully, and forever—and we have done the same in our baptismal promises, which we renewed at Easter. Each time we come into this church, he is bringing us deeper and deeper into his Father’s house. Each time we celebrate the Mass, it’s Christ’s wedding reception: the celebration that he is taking us into his home to be with him always.
That’s pretty amazing, right? But what’s the practical import of all this?
We need to make sure we make room for the Lord in our homes. By and large, that means setting aside space for Jesus in our schedules and priorities—and not just some hidden corner that’s left over after everything else is taken care of, but the very best, most valuable spot we can provide. We must make our relationship with Christ—as individuals and families—our main concern. One way to help us do this is to actually make some physical room for God in our houses: to set aside a little space where we can hang a crucifix or holy picture, where we can enthrone our Bible or light a candle, that becomes a sacred space for us to pray—alone or together, in good times or bad. As St. Peter reminds us in the second reading, we are to be living stones that are built up into a spiritual house. We need to be sure we make a real home for Jesus in our lives.
We also need to be sure we never lose sight of the home Jesus has made for us. This is more than a matter of mansions in the sky, awaiting us down the line in a far distant heaven. The new life Jesus wants to share with us is meant to begin right here, right now. He paid for it dearly—with the price of his own blood—sparing no expense. Let us not neglect his gift! Let us return to this house of the Lord regularly to receive the sacraments—the great tokens of his love. Let grow in our intimacy with Jesus by speaking with him daily in prayer. Let us make ourselves right at home in Christ.
The work of the homemaker is surely the most important in the world. All other work exists for it. The Son of God himself has made it his own. Let’s be sure to make a home for Jesus in our families, in our daily lives. And let’s be sure to fully move into the home Jesus has made for us, that we might enjoy the new life he longs to share with us—now and for all eternity.