Stop Offering Hospitality (Yes, I’m Serious)
In our gospel lesson today, Jesus comes to his hometown, and far from welcoming him with open arms and proclaiming him their rightful king, his neighbors scoff at him, imply he’s crazy or deluded, and flatly refuse to believe that he is a prophet and a miracle worker.
Jesus is a big flop in Nazareth.
And he’s not expecting it. “He was amazed at their unbelief,” Mark says.
Poor Jesus. He must have been crushed.
Everyone wants to look good at their high school reunion, to show up twenty pounds lighter and a thousand dollars richer than everyone else.
But Jesus’ friends, the people he grew up with, the people who watched him play in the streets as a little boy and bought benches and tables from his carpentry shop as a young man, turn their back on him.
He wants to show them all the amazing things God is doing through him, but he cannot access his power and he has to leave in disgrace.
Anyone after this humiliating experience would feel vulnerable.
Anyone after this failure might consider approaching things a little more carefully, with a little more thought and planning, would want to ensure success before taking any more risks.
Jesus’ response to crashing and burning in Nazareth is to take an even greater risk and drag his disciples along with him.
He sends them out two by two with no money, no extra clothing, nothing to sustain them at all.
They will be entirely dependent on the people to whom they are preaching, people who have not seen Jesus and his miracles, who will simply have to take the disciples’ word for it that they should uproot their lives and follow this itinerant rabbi.
It is the least sensible course of action imaginable.
It would be like if your house burned down and there was no insurance money, and the next day you decided, “I think today is the perfect day to buy a boat and start my own business.”
It would be like flunking out of medical school with thousands of dollars of student loan debt and no degree, and deciding to sign up for law school the next day.
It would be like breaking both your legs and the minute you get home from the hospital, deciding you’re going to run a marathon in six weeks.
It doesn’t make any sense. It’s going from one catastrophic failure to an almost guaranteed additional failure.
The disciples will starve, get lost, not heal or help anyone, and certainly not make any converts.
Jesus sent them out to be homeless people.
You may have helped a homeless person in the past, but as you were giving them change or buying them a meal, did you ever say to them, “I think I’ll change my life and live like you. Your message and your lifestyle makes sense.”
Jesus, you reckless and irresponsible leader.
How could you send your faithful followers out with nothing to help or support them?
This is Jesus showing us the true meaning of what Paul would write some years later in our lesson from 2 Corinthians: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
Jesus is forcing his disciples to rely on God, and they must rely on God by relying on the people to whom they are ministering.
The way Jesus designs the life of discipleship, he does not allow us a Plan B.
He does not allow us an escape hatch.
He demands that we risk it all for him and for the sake of the people who need to know him.
Jesus gives us blessings and graces and miracles and teachings that make us rich beyond measure, but he robs from us a treasure we hoard more closely than gold: control.
If we are to embark on the true journey of a disciple, we will have to give up our power and we will have to give up our control.
God, what an awful thought.
What Jesus is really doing here is turning the idea of hospitality on its head.
We like to think of hospitality as a sacred Christian tradition, as a cornerstone of our identity as a church.
We are here to welcome people in, right?
Well, actually not.
Jesus did not get his disciples together, all go inside a building, and then wait for people to show up or even invite them in.
He sent them out.
He sent them out to live among others, to take part in and rely on their hospitality.
Why did he do that?
Well, here’s a truth we don’t really like to confront as a church: hospitality is a position of power.
If you are extending hospitality to someone, you are living in two very comfortable realities that are not very spiritually fruitful.
If you are in a position of extending hospitality, you have the riches and power and safety to do so, and you are also richer and more powerful and safer than the people to whom you are giving that hospitality. Does that make sense?
You run no risk. You have complete control.
You are implying, even without meaning to, that you are better than your guest because they need you to feed and shelter them.
“Come in here where things are much better,” the message unintentionally becomes. “What a shame you haven’t got your life together and you need us to help you. We’ll help you because we have got it all figured out. Let us teach you how to live. Wouldn’t you like to be like us here in our nice, safe, rich church? Wouldn’t you like to fit in perfectly with such nice, safe, rich people as we are? I hope you’re not too different. You might need to change yourself to be just like us, so then you can offer ‘hospitality’ just like us.”
Well, Jesus is in no mood for that.
He cuts it off at the knees.
He sends the disciples out with no resources at all.
Sometimes it’s easier for us with our pinched budget and our small membership and our fears for the future stability and independence of this church, to feel much closer to the disciples wandering lonely and broke on the road.
But do you see the complete freedom the disciples have in the way Jesus sends them out to do ministry?
They aren’t worrying about maintaining a building. They aren’t trying to manage a budget or calculating average Sunday attendance.
They are sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, and trusting God’s children to share with them even as they share themselves.
Well, that’s all fine for the Jesus and the disciples. I know they took those kind of irresponsible risks, but how are we supposed to do that?
Well, we’re not going to know if we don’t even entertain the possibility that God wants us to do something radical.
The good news is we don’t have to do it alone.
When we ponder what it might be like to give up the sacred cow of hospitality and its attendant power, control, and security, we can think about how to do it as a church.
We can brainstorm and discern and think together about how we will get out of this building to get into ministry.
And if it still seems too scary, take this knowledge to heart: God did it first.
God took the risk of abandoning control and power and the position of being the welcomer to come to us.
God extended Godself to us, the most powerful being in the universe coming out to rely on our poverty-stricken hospitality—it’s called the Incarnation.
Jesus came to earth, dwelt in the womb of his mother Mary, and went on an incredibly risky journey in which he was completely dependent on the human beings surrounding him to take care of him, to welcome him, to hear and respond to his message.
Jesus came to earth with no bread, no bag, no money in his belt, just as he sent the disciples to do, just as he sends us.
And here’s the amazing part—Jesus maintained that risky reliance on the hospitality of others throughout his entire life.
Most of the commentators I read who reflected on Jesus’ lack of ability to do any miracles in Nazareth attributed it to his humanity, his human hurt feelings at having the wind let out of his sails.
I think this is Jesus expressing the Divine.
God chose to limit Godself profoundly when God created us human beings, because God chose from day one to be in relationship and partnership with us.
God cannot work healing in our lives unless we participate. Jesus proved it in this gospel.
God relies on our hospitality within ourselves to bring any kind of grace or healing to us.
God’s power cannot work unless we say “yes” to it.
God is helpless to manifest the Kingdom without us.
Tell me that’s not staggering.
So what do you want to do?
Do you want to welcome the God who has abandoned power, who has abandoned control, who has given up welcoming anyone in to go out to us and live as we live, as poor and uncertain and difficult as that life may be?
That is a God who has left heaven to come stay with you, a God who is trusting you to welcome and listen and be changed by the wayfaring deity that has knocked on your door and asked to share a meal and a conversation with you.
If you want to welcome that endearingly irresponsible God into your life, all you have to do is do as Jesus asks, which exactly the same thing as God did first–go forth into the world with faith that love awaits you.
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