Engaging the Mission Hospitality MAtthew Transforming Mission

This is Part 2 on Hospitality

Read Part 1 Here

My fourth grade Sunday school teacher, Mary, would greet me every Sunday at the classroom door with the words, “Timmy, I knew you were going to be here this morning.” Then with a welcoming hug, she would send me into the classroom to meet other classmates who had gathered.  As I entered the room, I would hear her say, “Nancy, I knew you were going to be here this morning.” When I would look back, she would be hugging Nancy and sending her into the room to meet the rest of us.  Mary greeted us as if she had been waiting all week for us and as if we were the most important people she knew.

Modeling Hospitality

She modeled hospitality.  She acted out what she taught us in class. I remember her lesson on Jesus touching a person with leprosy and the story of Jesus receiving a woman that was sick.  I will always remember her saying that we love like Jesus because that is the way we thank Jesus for loving us.

Several times a year, Mary would bring a meal to our Sunday School class. As we ate, she would tell us how Jesus invited people to eat at his table. Once when we did not have enough room around the table in our classroom, I remember her saying, “There is always enough room at Jesus’ table.” With those words, she added an extension to include all of us.

For Mary, hospitality was more than a gesture of welcoming, it was who she was as a person. Her extension of hospitality was an offering of love.

Several stories in the bible tell us about hospitality, but as you begin to engage in mission, there is one characteristic that is necessary for reaching out, receiving, and welcoming others as God in Jesus has welcomed you and the people of your congregation.

Read Matthew 25:31-46 

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 

37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 

40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ 

41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 

44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?’ 

45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment but the righteous into eternal life.”

Reflect on Matthew 25

I know that it seems strange to use a parable referring to judgment as a story of hospitality, but Matthew uses the parable as a tool to instruct what it means to be a follower of Jesus, a “daughter or son” of God. It is in his last formal teaching in Matthew’s good news, that Jesus gives us a clue to the righteousness and the works of mercy that grow out of that righteousness. According to Matthew, the sons and daughters of God live lives of righteousness especially toward the weak and marginalized.

Good News According to Matthew

With that in mind, there are several layers to the understanding of this parable. The first is the good news according to Matthew. “God sent Jesus to teach us how to live before God.” For Matthew, righteousness and holiness are characteristics of the children of God. At this point, keep in mind, hospitality grows out of righteousness and holiness.

Although Matthew says it differently from John, it is the same perspective of “being born from above.” Holiness and righteousness are seen in our relationships with God and with others.  So, for Matthew, you are a child of God and God sent Jesus to teach you how to live as a child of God. Hang on to that because this parable reveals the depth of holiness and righteousness of being God’s son and daughter. 

Understanding a Parable

The second layer is the understanding of a parable. Parables are reflections of reality as opposed to mirrors of morality. Said another way, this parable does not tell us what we should be doing. It reflects back to us what we are doing.

I have often heard this scripture quoted to leverage people to care for others, to raise money, or, at its worst, to shame people into acts of care and compassion. This parable is not a moral teaching. All the acts of care, compassion, and hospitality are good and needed, but the point of the parable is not “you should be doing these things.” The parable actually reflects reality. It reflects back what you are doing.  When you are doing acts of care, compassion, and hospitality for anyone, but especially for “the least of these” you are showing care, compassion, and hospitality to Jesus.

Caring for “the least of these” is who you are as a follower of Jesus, a human being bearing the image of one of God’s children. Caring for “the least of these” is who you are as a child of God. It is not a calculated action of doing what you should be doing.

Who You Are

The difference is subtle but significant. You are either caring for others because that is who you are, or you are caring for others out of calculated action to do good. Do you see the difference?

Maybe you can think of it this way, are you welcoming because that is who you are as a follower of Jesus or are you welcoming because it is what you are supposed to do to get more people into the church?

That brings us to the third layer of the parable, judgment. In light of becoming who God created you to be and in the light of the reality of your living as one of God’s children, your actions reveal who you are.  Judgment is experienced in the reflection of reality. It simply brings out what is already present.

Caring for People Around You

Notice the criterion of judgment is not a confession of faith in Jesus. Nothing is said of grace, justification, or forgiveness of sins. What counts is whether or not you have acted with loving care for people around you, especially those in great need.  

Your care, compassion, and hospitality are not acts of “extra credit” but are the basis of who you are as a follower of Jesus, a child of God, and a person of loving others as God in Jesus has loved you.

Responding to Jesus

Let’s look at this in another way. In the parable, when people respond, they are responding to Jesus. Yet both groups are surprised. Those who provide food, drink, clothing, shelter, and hospitality respond entirely based on who they are. It is no big deal. It is part of their living in relationship to God and to others. They are surprised to learn that there was a deeper dimension to their acts of human compassion. Without knowing it, they are responding to Jesus.

Those who plan their response to provide food, drink, clothing, shelter, and hospitality have worked intentionally to respond to human needs. They have done good work. But they are surprised to learn that their good work has not brought them the results they were planning to receive. Their acts of care, compassion, and hospitality are calculated. Even though they have worked to respond to human need, they have missed the point of God’s love thus missing the deeper dimensions of what it means to be a child of God. Because of their focus on themselves, they have missed Jesus.

Being Children of God

Both groups respond to human needs. Both respond out of who they are. The difference is, one group responds out of being children of God, living in holiness and righteousness in relationship to others. The other group responds to their need to care for others. Their need grows out of satisfying themselves as opposed to satisfying God. Because it feels good to help others it must be what God wants them to do.

Both groups are surprised. One group is living life as they have been created to live, in relationship with others whether they need help or not. The other group is living a life of self-satisfaction and does not understand that their hard work and care for others is a sign of their disconnectedness with others.

And there is the reflection of reality, the judgment of the parable. So, to be clear, it is not the doing of good things that brings holiness or righteousness to a person. It is the very nature of the person that reflects God’s holiness and righteousness. 

Who You Are is How You Lead

It is a tough parable.  But it reveals who you are and why you lead the way you do. It is a parable of character. That is why I can say that for my fourth-grade Sunday School teacher, hospitality was more than a gesture of welcoming, it was who she was as a person. Her hospitality was an offering of love. She greeted each 10-year-old in her class as if each one of us was Jesus.

Hospitality is rooted in the character of righteousness, God’s righteousness, which is revealed in the way you live in relationship with the people God sends your way every day.

Respond: Engage the Mission

How will you engage in mission today? The ultimate mark of an authentic follower of Jesus is not a creed, biblical knowledge, or adherence to the rules. The mark of an authentic follower of Jesus is seen and revealed in the nature of the person who responds out of love to human need. The practical demonstration of love is the ultimate proof.

So, be hospitable. Be aware of your responses. Do you feel normal and natural or are you calculated and self-seeking? The choice is not between the obviously bad and the obviously good. The choice is rooted in the love you have experienced in and through Jesus.

How Will You Engage in Mission?

How will you engage in mission today? The follower of Jesus does not have to present his or her case or argue his or her cause. Neither does the follower of Jesus request evidence of faith or goodness. He or she simply extends an invitation of hospitality.

So, be hospitable. As you respond to the emotional, physical, spiritual, and professional needs of the people around you, how will you find joy in being who God has created you to be? It does not have to be anything big or unusual, but it does have to be rooted in God’s love. Are you deep enough in God’s love that you can love others as you have been loved?

Your Character Revealed in Light of God’s Love

How will you engage in mission today? Be prepared to experience the reality of your character. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Your character will be revealed in how you respond to the people around you. Be mindful of the moments you are measuring your responses. Be aware of the moments you are responding normally.  

So, be hospitable. Your character will be revealed in the light of God’s love. The reality of who you are will come when you least expect it. It comes when you are unaware and catches you off guard. It is in those moments that you truly reveal yourself. The test will come, not in your remembered actions, but in your unconscious reactions, instinctive, and unplanned responses. 

Remember the words of Jesus, “When you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me.” How will you reach out, receive, and welcome Jesus today? 

Prayer

Lord, send me the people no one else wants and help me receive the people you are sending to me. By your grace, help me welcome others as you have welcomed me. Make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you invite and welcome people into your life and into the life of your congregation? Did you think of your invitation as an invitation of Jesus? Why? Why not? When did you respond in love for no other reason than to love? When were you confronted and convicted of your behavior? What did you learn about yourself? Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. To whom do you need to respond with words of hope, words of encouragement, or words of forgiveness? What will you do differently tomorrow?

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