Being a Good Guest for the Sake of the Gospel
Jul 03, 2022
Are you settled in for the journey? Last Sunday the Gospel began by telling us that Jesus had set his face for Jerusalem. He is determined, resolute, devoted to doing God’s will, and for the next few months – 10 chapters in Luke – we will be on that journey with him. Our goal is to learn what it means to be devoted, not distracted, disciples. (By the way, during the long Pentecost season, the liturgical color is green, a reminder of growth, as we strive to grow in faith and commitment.)
In today’s reading, Jesus sends an “advance party” to the places he plans to go; their task is basically three-fold: offer healing and peace and announce that the Kingdom of God has come near. That does not sound too terribly difficult (as long as it’s someone else doing it), but Jesus makes it more challenging with these instructions. They are to take nothing with them, no lunch money or bag of snacks, no extra clothing or sandals.
When they enter a house, and hospitality is offered, they are to accept it; there is to be no moving around looking for better options. The reality, Jesus says, is that the message may not always be well-received, if that’s the case, move on. Even then, the Kingdom of God has come near.
How does that sound to you; are you ready to go? One of the commentaries I read this week was written by Marilyn Smith, a seminary professor, who wrote about asking her students to envision themselves as on of the 70 and imagine what would be the most challenging about the journey. Many of the answers were predictable, she wrote, things like not taking money, even for emergencies and not having a change of clothes, depending on strangers for food and lodging and not being able to choose one’s traveling partner. (If anyone brought up concerns about proclaiming the message and the curing the sick, she didn’t mention it. I guess they were a confident, but used-to-comfort bunch.)
Anyway, during this discussion, a student who had not previously spoken in class said the challenge would be to, “Eat what is set before you,” (verse 8). Silence followed, she said, and then some nervous laughter, causing the student to repeat emphatically, “Eat what is set before you,” conveying by his tone that he was serious. When invited to elaborate, he told the class that his father had been a pastor in a rural, very poor area of South Dakota. The family was often invited to dinner by parishioners, most of them farmers. He recalled that he and his siblings were admonished to eat whatever was served. But this wasn’t just a case of a finicky eater disdaining vegetables; he went on to say that people on remote farms often relied on whatever they could kill or catch nearby for food, even for company. He added, “We just never knew what we would have to eat.” (1)
That reminds me of two situations. One is the elderly lady in my first congregation who had been so impacted by the depression that she would pick up roadkill off the highway in front of her house and cook it for the cats, or so she said. It was an economizing method about which she was proud. “We just never knew what we would have to eat.”
Secondly, when I went with a group of clergy to Egypt in 2006, during part of the trip we stayed in the homes of members of a struggling Christian church we were visiting. Of course, no one had to tell us the importance of graciously accepting whatever was offered in terms of food and lodging, which for some of our group was a challenge. I was fortunate; while there were some obstacles in my situation, I was never served anything I could not, or did not want to eat.
But that was not the case for everyone; at least one pastor had to deal with spoiled fruit and questionable meat more than once. In fact, that combined with being so far away from his wife and family, in unpredictable circumstances, caused him to have a major panic attack, but that’s another story. It’s not always easy to be a gracious recipient, especially if the hospitality offered is questionable.
To “eat what is set before you” may not be as easy as it sounds. On top of that, think of it in terms of those first followers of Jesus, when religious dietary laws, cultural norms and traditions were significant dividers of people. Is Jesus already letting them know that those rules will be set aside for the sake of the Gospel?
Many aspects of discipleship are difficult, but this particular one – being a gracious recipient – is not one we often think of; it requires two essential characteristics: vulnerability and humility. Looking again at the 70 in today’s reading, their goal is to be peaceable among those to whom they are sent. Quoting commentator Elaine A. Heath, “there is to be no exploitation, self-centeredness or striving for personal gain. Their single purpose is to prepare others to encounter Jesus. This is done peacefully, through grateful presence and conversation. The apostles must be relational and respectful in order to be invited into others’ homes, where they share the gospel of the kingdom of God. Theirs is a vulnerable position for they cannot force receptivity or hospitality on the part of others. (2)
In other words, they had to be good guests for the sake of the Gospel. Being vulnerable, allowing God to provide for one’s needs, receiving what is given with grace, those are important aspects of being a disciple.
It’s an interesting contrast, I think; on the one hand the disciples step out with boldness, entering towns and homes that are new to them, introducing people to Jesus and in doing so doing what he will do – offering the gifts of peace and healing. But, on the other hand, they must honor their audiences and hosts by trusting them with their lives and well-being. Their single purpose is to prepare others to encounter Jesus.
That is our purpose too; but instead of promising that Jesus will be showing up in-person soon, as was the case for the 70, we bring Jesus to them; he is encountered through us. What that means, in part, is that we are willing to be vulnerable and humble, graciously receiving the people who are placed in our paths, and what God gives us through them. It’s not so easy to describe what it is God gives us through them, but it involves a heart-felt connection and grace. The Ohio Mission Team has experienced this in the past, and will do so again soon, and the Laundry Ministry volunteers are beginning to grasp it too. (Example from Wednesday, June 29.) This is just one way that we become more devoted, rather than distracted disciples; good guests for the sake of the Gospel. AMEN
(1) “Commentary on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20” by Marilyn Salmon, www.workingpreacher.com
(2) “Luke 10:1-11, 16-20” by Elaine A. Heath, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 3, pg. 218