How do you practice giving – and receiving – offers of compassion? When have you met Christ in others?
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The sacred work of hospitality is grounded in attitudes of respect and care. Engaging such holy welcome in Jesus’ name offers the potential of sacred moments. We may encounter the presence of God in others, who may experience in us the love of Christ. As God has loved and welcomed us, so are we called to the embrace a life of hospitality.
These verses conclude a section of Jesus’ teaching sometimes called the “Missionary Discourse.” At the beginning of Matthew 10, Jesus appoints twelve of the disciples as apostles and proceeds to teach them how to carry out the work they have been called to do,– “fish for people” (Matthew 4:19). This teaching speaks of the costs and rewards of discipleship.
The arid regions of ancient Israel made water a precious commodity and powerful symbol. Inhospitable terrain, as in the wilderness east of the Jordan, made hospitality more than a social pleasantry. Life depended on water and welcome. Hospitality was the greatest obligation of biblical times, not just for the Jews but for all people throughout the ancient Near East. A host was honour-bound to provide certain hospitality to strangers, such as offering food and water, opportunity to wash, shelter, and even protection. Likewise, a host never knew when he or she would also be dependent upon such provisions of strangers. Not to offer hospitality was considered the most shaming of social errors and a great sin.
In traditions of this era, a messenger was to be treated with the same hospitality as if the messenger were the one who sent her or him. To extend welcome to one of Jesus’ apostles was equal to welcoming Jesus and also God, the one who sent Jesus. Verse 41 identifies “a prophet” and “a righteous person.” Tradition suggests both of these were travelling teachers and preachers, for whom hospitality would have been a necessity.
Jesus speaks of action extended toward “little ones” (v. 42). Who are these little ones? Some commentators suggest the phrase identifies ordinary persons within the church of Matthew’s time. Later, Matthew 25:31-46 relates a parable where Jesus comes in the guise of one of the “least of these.” We welcome Jesus the Christ as we extend a holy welcome to those who are vulnerable.
The very act of hospitality implies some risk, as it acknowledges the worth of the other. In this time of the early church, it could be risky to welcome followers of Jesus,– risky to the host and to the disciple. The “reward” might well be persecution from the Roman authorities or the wider community. Hospitality is lifted up as the bold work of God’s saving love.
The lament of Psalm 13 can be imagined as the song of a vulnerable person in need of holy welcome,– of healing, friendship, and the assurance of God’s presence. Yet even in the pain of waiting, there is trust in God’s steadfast love.
It is a challenge to perceive God’s holy welcome in Genesis 22:1-14, the account of the near-sacrifice of Isaac. This story is a painful and difficult one to read, no matter how one interprets it. God’s life-sustaining deliverance prompts the naming of that place: “God will provide.”
For Paul, as for Abraham, even when the ways of death seem inevitable, God’s steadfast love will prevail. Paul reminds the Christians in Rome and Christians today that whatever we have done before, we are welcome now in God’s reign. Romans 6:12-23 names this extraordinary and holy welcome as the “free gift of God.”
The scriptures urge us to extend a holy welcome and tend to the needs of others. Whom do we welcome? Who are the people who are made to feel,– even inadvertently,– that they are not welcome in the church? These are the people Jesus calls us to seek out, to welcome, and to care for, in response to the way God has loved and welcomed us.
Welcoming God, create in our community an openness to your presence, openness to your word, and openness to a future as your people. Lead us to openness in our conversation, our serving, and our welcome of all you have created. Amen.