A Long Journey Home: Gospel Reflections on ‘The Odyssey’

Homer brings out a number of themes in his classic work, The Odyssey, but one highly notable theme is the nobility of the desire to be at home. The Odyssey is by and large an account of one man’s desperate effort to return home. Odysseus has been serving faithfully in the Trojan War. For ten years Odysseus besieged the city of Troy. As told by Nestor, Menelaus, and Helen in Books 3-4, Odysseus is portrayed as a clever and valiant hero of the Trojan War. Though Odysseus has been presumed dead by many suitors salivating over the prospect of taking Penelope’s hand in marriage, he is alive and well, striving to return to his country, his wife, and his family.

This theme is first seen in Odysseus’ release from Calypso’s island, though his journey home did not begin there. Nevertheless, with the help of his divine guardian, Athena, Odysseus journeyed through fierce seas where Poseidon tormented him. He then encountered various obstacles that make his return seem bleak. Still yet, through the various roadblocks, Homer communicates the worthiness of not only returning home, but the journey itself. Desiring to be home is a noble desire worthy of fighting for. After fighting for ten years, Odysseus is washed up on the shores of Calypso’s island where he has a lover, but no love, contentment, or joy in his heart. His heart beats for Ithaca and Penelope, though he is estranged from both. The joyful embrace between Odysseus and Telemachus climaxes the journey, and drives Homer’s theme home. The joy of coming home is unlike any other. Even gallant victories of war cannot compare to the simple embrace of a son.

I see a similar theme in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Bilbo Baggins, though nothing quite like the masterful and valiant soldier, Odysseus, has embarked on a journey to help a band of dwarves regain their land from the possession of a dragon. Throughout The Hobbit, Bilbo desires to be at home in his comfortable hobbit hole. He does develop a desire for adventure, and wants to help these dwarves regain their home, but there is an innate desire for his hobbit hole that creeps in from time to time. In fact, it may just be his deep appreciation for home that motivates him in his quest to aid the dwarves in the recovery of their home.

After aiding in the defeat of Smaug, Bilbo finally embarks on his journey home. Bilbo faces some distractions on his way home and the journey was most definitely long. Although he was accompanied by treasures of gold on his journey home, the true treasure was when Bilbo returned to Baggend to his hobbit hole, his home.

Homer develops the theme of the worthiness of home throughout The Odyssey. From Odysseus’ desperate desire for home to his wife and son’s longings for the return of their husband, home is seen to be a place worthy of desire. This greatly aids the Christian in his or her pilgrimage home. Currently, Christians live in a foreign land. We are battling the evil one and are united to the One who besieged the kingdom of Satan by ushering in the kingdom of God.

Our great comfort in a life where we battle sin and temptation on a daily basis must be the home that awaits us. Christians are not at home. The desire of our hearts must be for home, where finally our restless hearts will find eternal joy. Homer teaches this through the long journey home of Odysseus. And Jesus came to bear the wrath of God, so that by his wounds we are brought home.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.


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