Genesis 22:1-14; Matthew 10:40-42
Ordinary 13A; Proper 8
Discipleship is not all about rejection and persecution.
Here, in the last two verses of Jesus’ instructions to the 12, comes assurance of divine presence and provision. Even as you may well be handed over to the authorities to be flogged, many times you will be welcomed, cared for and embraced. God provides. God provides the ram for the burnt offering just in the nick of time to spare Isaac. God provides for Elijah and Elisha. God provides for prophets, the righteous and the little ones, too.
God provides and therefore we should provide, too. Whoever welcomes a disciple of Jesus welcomes Jesus and whoever welcomes Jesus welcomes God. When we offer hospitality to prophets, the righteous and the little ones, we are offering hospitality to God. And, remembering Matthew 25, whenever we withhold water, bread or an embrace from the least of these, we are turning away none other than God.
Hospitality has high stakes. Simple acts of breaking bread, opening our homes and providing potable water ripple through the cosmos all the way to heaven and back. Imagine if we were conscious of this truth every time we sat around the dinner table with friends or strangers. Imagine if we were cognizant of the presence of the Living God in our home right along with the visiting youth on a mission trip. Imagine if when we embraced the refugee family or the mission co-worker on sabbatical or the exchange student, we realized that we were embracing Jesus Christ himself. That kind of theological imagination might change the way we view both our extending and receiving of hospitality.
Almost 17 years ago my husband went on a mission trip to Guatemala. The trip was not one where the group of youth and adults painted buildings or taught Bible studies. The mission they were on was to listen, to learn, to begin to make relationships. They met with pastors, community leaders and local Christians. They met with some prophets, some known by the community as righteous and some little ones. They heard many stories around many meals. The experiences were transformative, at least for my husband. He came home with a woven cover that still adorns my Bible, a colorful jacket for our three-year-old and tiny, purple and magenta booties for the baby on the way whose eminent arrival had kept me home and enabled my husband to make the trip in my stead.
Despite the jet lag and travel weariness, he was eager to talk about all he’d seen. The country was beautiful, the people warm, the guide patient. Then he said something I didn’t expect. He said, “I had the best meal of my life there.” “Really?” I asked. “What was it?” “A bowl of black beans and hardboiled egg.” He was effusive about this meal. He said they’d eaten at some restaurants and had beans and rice at virtually every meal, but this meal was special. The bowls of beans and hardboiled eggs had been served to them by a woman in her home. She had opened her home to this group of Americans she’d never met before and offered them her very best. There was little that her family and these Presbyterians had in common, but they were united together in Christ and she therefore saw them as her brothers and her sisters. She did not share out of abundance. Her home was not well appointed or spacious. The food was simple, but the welcome and the generosity was unlike anything my husband had ever experienced. To this day if you ask him what the best meal he has ever eaten was, he will say, “A bowl of black beans and a hardboiled egg.”
I think he was overwhelmed by the unexpected provisions so far away from home: food and drink given in love that he could never reciprocate. He was overcome with the sense of being treated like family by a family so unlike his own. He was amazed at the generosity in the face of what appeared to be great scarcity. In short, he was surprised by grace. Christian discipleship is like that, isn’t it?
Don’t we sometimes find that we are totally embraced by the most unlikely of people, in the most unusual of places when we most need to be enfolded and made to feel at home? The palpable sense of the divine pervades the space and we know that the bread, the water, the beans, the egg, will not only sustain us but inspire us to keep on the Way. Christian hospitality is like that, isn’t it?
I cannot count the ways and occasions when disciples of Jesus Christ have provided for me and in so doing made manifest the providence and promises of God. Meals brought after the birth of my babies. Neighbors filling my pantry upon moving into my home at my first call. A crew of youth to do yard work. A couple coming to help me pack up my books and then another who came with his truck to move them. A place to stay for the summer. A place to write without interruption. Child care. Help with cleaning. The loan of a car. The honest offer to call any time for anything. A jug of clean water on our doorstep with a prayer attached the morning after the flood that rendered our neighborhood’s water undrinkable. A neighbor inviting all of us in, pets included, the cold night the furnace went out. All unearned and unreciprocated and Spirit-infused gifts. Christian community is like that, isn’t it?
God provides. God provides the ram for the burnt offering. God provides for prophets: Behold a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water; all of a sudden the Shunammite woman gives an open invitation and even builds us a space. God provides for the righteous: Peter’s mother-in-law gets out of bed and serves; Lydia prevails upon Paul and Silas until they relent and come stay in her home. God provides for the little ones, refusing to turn them away: feeding the hungry crowds, compelling whoever is willing to come to the great banquet. God provides for us and therefore we are to provide, too. And when we do, we welcome Jesus Christ and the One who sent him. When we do, we are surprised by grace. We are surprised by no less than God. Christian life is like that, isn’t it?
Following Jesus demands that we take up our cross and follow, lose our lives that we might find them, expect rejection, endure persecution and put nothing and no one before our Lord, trusting that God will provide. And God does, in miraculous ways, through the gifts and grace of those who love Jesus demonstrating that love through providing for others with black beans and a hardboiled egg or a jug of water or a drive to the grocery store or a spare bedroom or a safe space to cry or a bill paid or a job offer. None of which goes unnoticed by the Triune God who is present each and every time we welcome a prophet or a righteous person or a little one or the least of these. Imagine.
- If there is someone, or a group of people, you’ve been intending to invite into your home for a meal, do it and remind yourself that Jesus is present with you at that meal.
- What prevents you from being as hospitable as you might like to be? How can you address those barriers?
- When have you experienced hospitality that was especially meaningful to you? Why was it so?
- How has God provided for you? Have there been times when you have been without?
- If God provides, why are there so many who don’t have life’s basic necessities?
- Read all of Matthew 10 and consider Jesus’ instructions to his disciples as a whole. What do you notice? Are you following Jesus’ instructions?
Want to receive Looking into the Lectionary content in your inbox on Mondays? Click here to join our email list!