God can be found in the providing of hospitality to strangers and in those times when we are open to the hospitality of others. (Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6 . Matthew 9:35-10.8 (9-23); Genesis 18:1-15 and 2:1-7; Psalm 116:1-2, 11-18; Romans 5:1-11.) It may be that when we open ourselves to the needs of others, especially those we do not know and cannot realistically assume anything from, that we are opening our hearts and minds and cupboards to compassion and mystery. It may be that when we are open ourselves to the gifts of others that we let go of control and obligation and allow the generous flow of creation, through the little or the lot that others have, to flow to us and through us. And maybe when we place ourselves in the flow that begins and ends in God, the generous abundant creator, we are more truly living in faith. All of this and more is at play when we provide and receive hospitality. All of this is often quite difficult for us twenty first century independent ones who like to be in control of our lives, even our faith life.
You may like to consider what I wrote in response to
the Matthew text three years ago.
We begin with the delightful and well known story of Abraham and Sarah entertaining strangers who are angels, messengers, maybe the trinity themselves – certainly of God. Hospitality to the stranger, to the traveller, was an expectation in the ancient middle east and many other parts of the world for the most practical of reasons. Travel would have been almost impossible and certainly even more dangerous if you could not rely on strangers allowing you to take water and sometimes food and shelter on your way through someone else’s country. It is interesting that initially Abraham offers a little water, rest and bread but it quickly becomes a banquet with the fatted calf being prepared (a delightful resonance can be heard in the Luke story of the parable of the Prodigal Son when the father figure orders a banquet in celebration of the return of the son). Godly hospitality it seems is always generous and more than enough. There is an air of celebration even before the extravagant promise that Sarah would bear a child despite her and her husband’s withered state.
There is also the implied contrast with the lack of hospitality shown in Sodom to which the strangers were next headed. (The real sin of Sodom was not homosexuality but the complete lack of hospitality and respect for the stranger made clear in that Lot, who showed true hospitality, is enabled to escape the wrath brought down on the city.)
In this week’s gospel reading from Matthew we explore the other side of hospitality – what it means for us to be recipients of the hospitality of others. This long reading is about many things which I cannot explore very far here because of the constraints of time. It is worth noting that our portion of Scripture begins with the ministry of Jesus and his great compassion (gut wrenching reaction) to the needs of those who are like sheep without a shepherd and moves to the sending of the disciples into the neighbouring villages to share the good news of love and healing. And the way in which they are sent – no silver or copper coins, no extra clothes, shoes, defensive weapons such as a staff – requires them to live by the hospitality of those they are sent to. There is both the reminder that as emissaries of Jesus they are worthy of hospitality and support and it is also clear that there is vulnerability in going to strangers and being dependent on others. (It is interesting to note that those villages that do not receive the messengers of Jesus will meet the same judgement that Sodom and Gomorrah did – the judgement of not providing hospitality to the stranger.)
To be a follower of Jesus seems to mean that we not only bear the gift of good news to others but that in some ways we come empty handed and in need. For us in the west and the twenty first century we are raised with notions of independence and success and generosity to others out of our plenty. These are not bad notions but they are not necessarily as Christian as we may assume. When we have plenty we are certainly challenged to be generous. However we are promised fields of suffering as much as we are promised personal plenty. The plenty that there is available to us is not necessarily to be owned by us but rather the plenty of the fields and the air, the plenty that strangers choose or don’t choose to share with us. We are dependent on God for the air we breathe and the food and drink we rely upon. Sometimes that comes to us as wages for labour, sometimes as pure gift from the universe around us, and sometimes from the hands of strangers that are like us or not very like us. To be a disciple is to be vulnerable to the beautiful and good, and the sad and bad in our world. To be a disciple is to accept the constraints of study and devotion and to be cast upon the vagaries and uncertainty of those we are to serve. To be a disciple is to be open to the gifts given us, sometimes the most precious and delightful gifts for which we can be truly grateful, and sometimes gifts of such challenge and humiliation that it can be years before we can find any gratitude. The ego, the myth of self reliance, the desire for control over one’s own life does not last long in discipleship.
It is important to note that our mission begins in the compassion of Jesus for the lost people of God – those who have been given a shepherd but who keep killing the prophets and choosing lostness. Although arguably guilty of unfaithfulness the reaction of Jesus to the needs of the chosen but lost ones is of great compassion. His own ministry of teaching and healing is among the Jews primarily and he sends his disciples at this point only to the house of Israel. Later, at the great commissioning after the ascension of Jesus, he will send his disciples into all the world. We in this day and age might resonate with the sense that the greatest need seems to be in the church, in the house of Israel if you will; that the greatest need for compassion, for truly good news, and for liberation, is among those who have killed many prophets before and seem to choose lostness and blindness. While judgement might be coming for the church that refuses to be hospitable our ministry is not one of judgement but of open handed availability to share the good news as we have received it. And where we are not welcome, let us shake the dust off our sandals and continue on to where we and the goodnews of God’s great compassionate love are welcome.
To truly be disciples it seems we must live, move and have our being, in the flow between creator God and beloved world; to be carried by compassion strong as birth and rebirth; to be as vulnerable as a traveller with no purse or spare sandals. To truly be disciples we are invited into the plenty and the barrenness of a world where we are both at home welcoming the unknown and the stranger who is utterly dependent on the goodness of God.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, come grant us courage and faith, generosity and trust, that we might share the good news of your compassionate love for all.