When left to my own devices, I’m not much of a traveler. I traveled quite a bit for business, and I got pretty good at business travel, but it took marrying an accomplished traveler for me to get used to traveling for fun, seeing the sights, and especially staying with other people, family and friends.
“In the ancient world, travel was deviant and dangerous. It was deviant because there was little reason to leave one’s ancestral dwelling where one was normally surrounded by extended family network…It was dangerous because robbers waited to ambush travelers, particularly those traveling alone (Lk 10:30). For this reason, Jesus tells his newly authorized faction members to travel in pairs. Very likely these pairs joined larger caravans for greater safety. The instruction to travel lightly (no bread, no money, etc.) is not unusual. The needs of travelers (lodging and food) were to be provided chiefly through hospitality. Jesus continues his instruction with special attention to hospitality (e.g., “receiving” or “welcoming”).
Back then, “hospitality was a value extended exclusively to strangers. (Relatives and friends are extended steadfast loving kindness.) The process involves three steps: the stranger is taken under the protection of a host for a given time, transformed into a temporary guest, with hopes that the two will part friends (but parting as enemies is also possible). The host provides lodging, food, and especially a safe haven or protection from the suspicions and possible attacks of villagers. After all, strangers are always suspected of being up to no good and plotting damage to the village.
“Failure to extend hospitality in the Middle East is a serious breach of honor. Jesus’ advice to “shake off the dust on your feet as a testimony against those who would not extend hospitality” is a major insult. It effectively writes these people out of the human community. The gesture implied total rejection, hostility, and an unwillingness to be touched by anything the others have touched.”1
Not that the Middle East follows its own rules, of course, and if most of the world is good at anything, it’s rejection, hostility, and the unwillingness to be touched by anything others have touched. One of my favorite TV shows is Parts Unknown; Anthony Bourdain travels the world and reports back on the state of whatever city or country he is in. It’s a brilliant show, marvelously put together and perhaps the best produced show on TV. It’s also heartbreaking, as no matter where Bourdain goes, he shows us the best and worst of any area – those who extend hospitality and those who extend their fists; those who welcome their neighbor and the stranger and those who refuse everyone who comes before them.
Jesus knew the world was this way and so He warned His disciples that even as the Son of man would be treated, so much worse would they treat His followers. We need to heed that same warning today when we are sent out into the world, sent out as messengers of the Gospel; some will welcome us and some will reject us, shame us, dismiss us, and we need to be ready for that.
All the more, though, today’s Gospel reminds us that, just as we are sent by Jesus to go before Him into our community, we are also a people who receive – we receive those sent by Jesus to us, both those know the Lord and those who are seeking after Him.
So we must be mindful to be the community that takes in all who God sends to us, to be the hospitable community, and I think we are pretty good at that. Hospitality in the Kingdom of God does not include some things are pretty common in churches: it does not include making guests stand up and introduce themselves at the Peace or making them wear nametags at coffee hour. It doesn’t include weighing guests down with parish souvenirs or making them “feel special”. Real hospitality means welcoming people as you would welcome Jesus. That includes food, thank God, because we do food awfully well, but it also means Letting people in, into your space, providing a sacred space for them to be with the Lord and within the fellowship of believers, no matter our differences.
Last week I bid farewell to a young man with autism – his family is moving away. They were only with us for a short time and the young man had his ups and downs while in the pews, but his grandmother told me, on they’re way out, that they were terribly sad to leave, as this was one of the only places she felt that they were accepted, supported, made to feel like they weren’t being watched, judged. That sounds like hospitality to me, the kind Jesus wants to find in us, and at that moment I couldn’t have been prouder to be a part of this church. May the Lord continue to find in us a place where He can send His own.
1John J. Pilch, http://liturgy.slu.edu/15OrdB071215/theword_cultural.html