In the Lectionary

January 27, Epiphany 3C (Luke 4:14-21)

How would Norman Rockwell have painted Jesus' homecoming to Nazareth?

We love to romanticize the warmth and wholeness of home life. Home is where the heart is. Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home. Home is where you can scratch where it itches. Norman Rockwell, known in his heyday as America’s “artist in chief,” reinforced for many what our idyllic views of home should look and feel like. His depictions remind us of the love, joy, and safety many of us feel when we remember the places that shaped us—places that live on in us even when we’re far from them, and even when they no longer exist.

Rockwell’s paintings are seared into our memories. Freedom from Want depicts a smiling family gathered around a Thanksgiving table with a grandmotherly figure placing a huge turkey at the center of the feast. Freedom from Fear shows a mother tucking her little ones into bed while a doting father looks on. It’s Americana at its best, evoking home as it used to be or as we hoped one day it would be.

But Rockwell did not live in the nostalgic world he painted. His biographer Deborah Solomon notes that he had anything but a peaceful and loving home life. Throughout his life he suffered sustained bouts of depression. He married three times. His son Tom developed an ulcer and dropped out of Princeton University at midterm, overwhelmed by the academic pressure. Tom also suffered from depression, as did Rockwell’s second wife, who passed away in her sleep after three turbulent decades of marriage.