Corpus Christi, Trinity Sunday, Pentecost… the big celebrations are over. This week Jesus is back to teaching the basics. And what could be more basic than Christian hospitality. This lesson is not so much about what to do as it is about who and why we welcome.
But first the disciples need a quick shot of confidence. Jesus has called them to ministry. And they have left family and livelihood to follow him. Their decision has not been universally praised. They sense a growing hostility to Jesus and a danger to themselves. Right after telling them that: He that loses his life for my sake shall find it;Jesus comforts them saying: He that receives you receives me, and he that receives you receives him who sent me. Beyond the much needed encouragement for the disciples, there is an abiding lesson here for clergy and congregations. Shepherds are called to lay down their life for God’s flock. It is not a job or even a career. It is a vocation. And the answer to God’s call can only be complete commitment to serving his people. In Christ "to lead" means to serve… and serve… and serve. In this gospel Jesus also instructs congregations that they must make service possible. They must welcome and support his servants as they would welcome and support him. While history and even current practice is sometimes stained with abuses, it is Christ’s own model… created for his people, not for the angels. It works if we work it. All things come right in Christ.
The whole concept of hospitality in this gospel is a surrogate for Christian charity. But how much of the hospitality we offer is merely an exchange for hospitality we receive or anticipate receiving from others? Christian charity doesn’t work that way. It’s not transactional. And it is not selective. It is a witness to the unconditional love of Christ that lifts us up and saves all who would be saved. It is not reserved for family and friends, but deliberately directed to the least among us… or as Christ calls them in this gospel: these little ones. That’s the theory, anyway. What’s the practice like?
Sadly, the world is not awash with Mother Teresa’s. Too many of us hide out in gated communities and upscale zip codes. We only see poor people on television and promptly change the channel for happier faire. But despite an increasingly cynical, secular world, hope survives. Christ’s love is alive. It is all around us. We have many proven, practical ways to follow Christ’s command. Call them parish outreach programs; call them community food pantries. They are one of the great unsung success stories of grassroots faith at work, not just for the obvious support they give to the neediest, but for the vehicle of love that they provide for the faithful.
For decades now, our churches have opened their doors to those addicted to drugs and alcohol. Alcoholics Anonymous and its offshoots rely on church hospitality. How many lives have been rebuilt around your parish coffee pot? And for those not free to come to us, we bring hospitality to them. Parish prison ministries take the love of Christ to the people and places that need it most. Beyond all the political uproar on immigration, there are the basic human needs of vulnerable strangers struggling in our midst. Christ didn’t speak English. He was hounded from place to place. See him in our undocumented brothers and sisters. Closer to home, sooner or later we all take our turn in the ranks of the needy… in sickness, in bereavement, in turmoil. In the heart of a parish family, surrounded by love, it’s never as bad; we’re never alone.
These are the basics of Christian hospitality… no surprises… nothing fancy… just an active awareness that all these “little ones” are our guests of honor… the honor of Christ. Welcome them as you would welcome him. Love them as he loves you.