A wise priest, we’ll call him Father Jim, once gave a conference about hobos. Although there are a couple of theories about the etymology of the word hobo, Father Jim enjoyed one in particular. Hobo, he told us, comes from the contraction of homeward bound. Hobos were migrant workers who were heading home. Etymological arguments aside, these men called hobos were certainly migrant laborers. Unlike bums and tramps, hobos were happy to earn their living by working. From these hobos, Father Jim went on to say, we can learn an important lesson about the spiritual life. After all, Abraham the Patriarch was a hobo:
By faith Abraham . . . acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. (Hebrews 11:8, 13-14, 16)
Abraham, St. Paul tells us, saw and greeted from afar what God promised him, but did not receive it himself. He answered God’s call by his faith and so lived as a stranger and exile on the earth…seeking a homeland. Abraham was a hobo. God promised an inheritance to Abraham and all his descendants. Abraham lived his life homeward bound, desiring “a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” As Father Jim likes to say, Abraham was a hobo for heaven, homeward bound for heaven.
St. Paul was not merely praising Abraham’s great faith; he was giving us an example to follow. In Jesus Christ, we are invited to heaven, not to make an eternal vacation, not to be a perpetual guest, but finally to make our way home. God invites us to receive heaven as an inheritance, as co-heirs with Christ. Through baptism we are sons in the Son or, as Father Jim likes to say it, filii in Filio. “See what love the Father has bestowed on us, in letting us be called children of God,” St. John says in his first letter. How beautiful it is to be adopted by God!
If we consciously live as hobos for heaven, we will not forget our goal: getting home. Yet hobos are not bums or tramps; we have work to do while on earth, and we cannot forget that. Although earth is not our final goal, it is here that we live for now. We are hobos, willing to work where we are and keeping our eyes fixed on heaven, the home Jesus promised to prepare for us. It is time to embrace the life of a hobo: to be homeward bound for heaven.
Image: Vasily Perov, On a pilgrimage.