Be willing to risk receiving hospitality

Written by Joel on June 29th, 2011

cup of cold water

June 26, 2011
2nd Sunday after Pentecost (13th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Matthew 10:40-43

Right around this time last year I was working part-time for the 2010 US Census Bureau. I was an enumerator which meant my job was to go door to door and follow up on all the people who did not return their questionnaire by the deadline. The job required knocking on someone’s door, hoping they would answer and not slam the door in my face; then I’d explain who I was and try to talk them into answering 5 questions about their household. Sometimes this was easy, and sometimes it was a challenge. Most folks were quite nice – they apologized for misplacing their form or forgetting about it. A few (a very few – I mean 2 out of the couple of hundred of visits I completed) even invited me in to the kitchen table and offered me a glass of sweet tea while we filled out the form. There were a few (again very rare, maybe 2 or 3 folks) who were quite mean. I believe around here you would say “hateful.” Before getting a word out of my mouth, they would take one look at my badge and clipboard and start yelling. “Get out of here!” “I don’t need to answer anything!” “Washington is so nosy.” Even some obscenities and then a door slam in my face. Too bad I had to try three times before officially marking them down as a “refusal.” So, I’d have to go back again the next day and the day after that and take some more abuse before simply asking a neighbor who would politely tell me everything I needed to know in the first place.

It occurred to me that in both extremes – the sweet Southern hospitality as well as the Southern temper, these folks were not receiving me (or not) they were receiving (or not) who I represented. During training I had to be sworn-in as a government agent. When I got that door slammed in my face; they were actually slamming that door in the face of the one who sent me – in this case the US Government.

That is Jesus warning to his disciples in the Gospel reading today.

The Gospel is taken very much out of context in our Gospel reading this morning. And when it is done so, and we have just these three verses to consider it is quite easy to get the point of the text completely backwards. It sounds an awful lot like Jesus is sharing a proverb on how to be hospitable or welcoming. [Begin with verse 41] “Whoever welcomes someone known to be a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes someone known to be righteous will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones…truly I tell you, that person will certainly be rewarded.” Hearing just these verses we may conclude that we are called to be welcoming and to show hospitality. To modernize the text and apply it to the church we might come to the conclusion that we are called to be nice and that we need to make our churches as accommodating as possible, we ourselves need to be as welcoming as possible, we need to have the best church coffee hour in town so that when people come to us we do as Christ said and we are welcoming, by offering that cold cup of water (or hot beverage). Look how welcoming we are! Being a welcoming church is a great thing, but it’s not what Jesus is saying here. This text is not about offering hospitality, it is about receiving hospitality (or not) as disciples in Jesus name.

These three verses come at the end of Jesus’ sending of the twelve disciples to Israel. This episode of teaching and sending follows the Sermon on the Mount and then some various healings done by Jesus. It was after the many healings that Jesus preformed that he continued to see the crowds and he called the people sheep without a shepherd. And so he took his disciples aside and gave them a commission to go. He begins by telling the disciples “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the Harvest, therefore, to send out workers into the field.” Jesus calls the disciples first to prayer; I wonder if the disciples knew that they would be the answer to their own prayer “Lord send someone to work in the field.”

Hear the words Jesus gave his disciples: (10:7) “As you go, proclaim this message: The kingdom of heaven has come near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons…(v9) “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts, no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff…(v12) As you enter the home, give it your greeting…(v14) If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town…(v16) I am sending you out like sheep among wolves…(v17) Be on gaurd; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. [they will] arrest you. (v21) Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me…When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another…(v28) Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…(v34) Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword…(v38) Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

All these warnings in Jesus call for the disciples to go; and then we have our text on hospitality. Putting it in perspective now, Jesus is trying to give them some optimism: There is a lot of danger out there, and you may face death and rejection, but you will also face welcome. There will be people out there who do welcome you in my name.

When we hear these hospitality verses it may sound like an easy message – all you have to do is offer a cup of cold water, and you will be rewarded. But turned around – imagine these disciples who face all this danger and rejection and being told that being offered minimal hospitality will be rewarded and that they should be grateful when they are received, even in a small way. Turning this around, we are not given a low threshold of hospitality – all you have to do is give a cup of cold water; that’s good enough. No, turned around, being the ones to receive hospitality – we are called to graciously receive hospitality in Jesus name. When someone gives you as insignificant of a gesture as cold water because you come in Jesus name, be honored! Do not expect great things, going out in my name.

We do not face the same kind of threat here, in the United States, even as local missionaries. Even going door to door the worst that might happen is that you get a door slammed in your face – but we still face a real challenge for us today. Hospitality is rare, especially for strangers. And it may be difficult for us to seek hospitality from others – feeling uncomfortable to enter into the life of someone else.

Jesus is telling his disciples to be willing to risk receiving hospitality in Jesus name. Be ready to go in Jesus name and have the door slammed in your face, or to be flat out ignored. But also know that when you go out in Jesus name you will also be received; even in small ways (someone open to talking to you, offering that cold cup of water, or even welcoming you in their home) because you are his disciple – and that person is worthy of the presence of Christ, through you (his disciple) because Jesus sent you to receive hospitality in his name.

Be willing to risk receiving hospitality in Jesus name.


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