Hospitality at the Source
Congratulations, this is what is like to live during the big moments of history. It’s confusing, it’s frustrating, it’s heartbreaking, and it’s hard. Years from now, we will be able to see the fruits from all of the change happening around us, but right now it is hard to see past our own front doors.
So many things are changing around us, our daily activities, how we do school, and so many people without jobs without a warning, but the thing I’ve been personally struggling with is hospitality. I think this change has been disturbing me so much, because hospitality is such an important part of my family culture, the mom culture, and especially our church culture. The things we have been taught to do to show people that they are welcome and loved are all now deemed dangerous or questionable.
Ok, Jesus, you want me to welcome someone in your name, or allow someone to welcome me in your name, but how do I do that?
Normally, when I want to get to know someone better, I invite them to coffee or lunch or even to my home, but right now, we’ve decided it is not safe for us to eat in restaurants (Sammi eats off of any surface), and perhaps someone would want to come to my home, but am I ready to welcome another person and their germs into my home?
When I meet someone for the first time, I’ve been taught to give a strong handshake. This one has actually become fun, because sometime people will offer their elbow or just wave, but this is one of the things that I think will take a while to sit with us right, because in ordinary times a strong handshake somehow makes us feel safe, and let’s us know the person is trustworthy, but now it’s the elbow or the large “non” handshake gesture that instills trust. It’s weird, but the more I encounter people, the more I feel like I am adjusting.
When I think about my ministry, it’s hard, because I want to visit people in their homes or in the hospital, but I rely on the phone or sometimes doorway conversations, because I don’t want to put their lives at risk or bring their germs to the next person’s home.
When I think about our church ministry, I get really sad. Even though I have a lot of food sensitivities, I still love pot-lucks. I love bringing some sweet or savory treat I have made and sharing it with other people. You can learn a lot about someone by what they cook, or how they cook, but I can’t imagine what pot-lucks will look like, unless we all bring our own meals and don’t share. And that can work, in fact we like to do that with GAP, but always not sharing seems unchristian some how.
And then there’s hugging. Sometimes I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world, because I get multiple hugs from my sweet little Samantha. She is also very generous with kisses. And it makes me aware of all of those people who live alone, or mothers who live so far away from their children and grandchildren.
During these times of change, we are simultaneously experiencing loss and grief for the way things used to be, but we are also given the opportunity to press forward and innovate.
But when it comes to verses like this, I just want to cry. Jesus I want to welcome my neighbor in your name, but how do I keep myself and my family safe?
It gets worse as we go back a few verses, because Jesus recognizes how this is a dangerous time for his disciples and he says, “I have not come to bring Peace, but a sword"—Even though he had just talked about sending peace with his disciples on their journey. And he says, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Then as we go back a little further and we see Jesus walking into awkward and uncomfortable situations, it seems to me like he is not concerned with his safety or the safety of his disciples. In fact, they are called to put their lives on the line and pick up their cross in order to be worthy of Jesus. It’s like he’s saying, "Life is not about survival, it is about fullness and grace.”
These are things I believe, and yet in times like these, I feel like I am the disciple that said, “Sorry, Jesus, I can’t follow you because I have to take care of my family right now. I have to keep them safe.”
I can’t visit the sick, because I need to keep myself and my family well. I can’t go to the protest and show solidarity with those who are feeling alone and violated, because I want to keep myself healthy to care and show solidarity with them in the future.
So, I started to ask myself, what would Jesus tell me to do. What would Jesus call me to do right now?
One of the verses that always comes to mind is also from Matthew in a few chapters later, “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.” Maybe you remember the phrase from his parable of the sheep and the goats. Jesus tells a story about been fed and cared for even when people didn’t know that they were caring for him. He told the crowd that when they feed the hungry or take care of the sick, they are actually taking care of Jesus, and it is a great parallel to this scripture, because Jesus says that when we welcome someone, we welcome him and not just him but the one who sent him. And then there’s this great line: "and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
The theologian Dr. Bonnie Pattison points out that, "Jesus mentions a 'cup of cold water' (emphasis added) to indicate not only hospitality but sacrifice: to offer cold water required drawing water from a deep well and often carrying it uphill in a heavy jar to the family home. Who would want to drink room-temperature water if new, cold well water was available? The simple act of giving 'a cup of cold water' to an ordinary believer was a sacrificial act, a generous gift that might require another arduous trip downhill to the village well to draw up more cold water for the household."
(2013). Theological Perspective on Matthew 10:40–11:1. In C. A. Jarvis & E. E. Johnson (Eds.), Feasting on the Gospels: Matthew, Chapters 1–28(First Edition, Vol. 1, p. 280). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
So it makes me think, okay, I’ve always thought of making someone feel welcome as part of the goal of good hospitality, but I’ve always pictured good hospitality as going the extra mile and pulling out all of the stops to give someone the best of the best. But what does hospitality mean at the source? What does it truly mean to make someone feel welcome? Is it doing extravagant things and sharing what I want to give, or could the focus be more on meeting their needs, hearing their sorrows, making them feel safe.
Looking back further in Matthew, I was struck by the hospitality of Joseph. Even if Jesus seems to live on the edge, his earthly father preferred a predictable life. Joseph was a very sensible man, and the storyteller of this gospel tells us how he was planning to take the sensible approach and release Mary of her engagement, but the Angel charged him to take care of Mary and protect her and her son, this child which came from God, but would be entrusted to his care. Joseph would welcome the Christ child and keep him safe, even if that meant putting himself in uncomfortable positions. The storyteller gives us even more of the story here in Matthew, because we hear about how Joseph moved them to Egypt and back, always staying aware and attuned to God’s direction to keep his son safe.
When you provide for the safety of your child, you provide safety and care for the savior of the world. That was true for Joseph, can it also be true for me? Can it be true for you, too?
Thinking about that trip Jesus made to Egypt and back, made me think of another parent mentioned in Matthew, Rehab the mother of Boaz. I love that Matthew identifies her as the mother of Boaz, because our Sunday school lessons somehow forget that so easily.
Her story begins in a brothel, a woman providing a home and welcoming travelers, in a way we would not consider to be Holy, but then comes along some spies in her home town of Jericho. These spies are trying to get a look at the strength of the city, but they get themselves into a bit of trouble and need a place to hide. Rehab, herself, was probably not their first choice for protection, but she had heard of the mighty deeds of God, and she made a deal to keep them safe, if they would keep her safe when the people of God took control of Jericho. When the time came, God did protect Rehab and her whole household, and she later married into the family of Salmon and became an ancestor to the great King David, and eventually to the savior of the world, Jesus, himself.
Rehab showed an essential form of hospitality, not by providing the most extravagant meal or the most luxurious bed for her guests, but by keeping them safe from harm.
She shows us that hospitality can even be providing a safe place and receiving people who are in trouble, not by putting them in uncomfortable situations but by providing the necessary situation for them to find safety.
And Jesus uses that word too in our scripture today—For every time you show welcome by even offering a cup of cold water to one person, one child, one suffering neighbor, you offer it to me.
Maybe there are things we want to do and can’t, but maybe there are also small things you do every day that make you feel uncomfortable, and when you take the time to create a safe space for the people around you, you are creating a safe space for Jesus, you are welcoming Jesus.
When business owners put up plexiglas to protect their employees and their customers, the wall might initially feel like hostility, but the protection is an act of welcome, an act of providing safety for these children of God, a sign of welcome for Jesus.
Every time you put on your mask for those who are around you, you wear your mask for Jesus. Every time you observe 6 feet or more of distance so that you can keep other safe, you are offering a hug to Jesus.
Every time you wash your hands to keep other safe you are offering a cold glass of water, even for the least of these, and you are receiving the cleansing blessing of God and the presence of God in your life.
May you trust in Christ's call to provide for the safety of others, and find yourself resting in the safety of God's love.