40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” (Matthew 10:40-42 NRSV)
Doris (not her real name) dropped by the church office earlier this week. “Hi, Doris. Haven’t seen you in awhile. You doing okay?”
“No. I just got out of jail.”
Oh, dear. It seems that she broke a law or two trying to hang onto her apartment and get food. She lost her benefits as a result. She lost what was left of her self-esteem. But, she hasn’t lost hope.
She needed fuel for her automobile, but not too much. Her gas tank leaks. She also needed some paper towels, toilet paper and dish soap. That’s all. It was easy to fill her needs of the moment. It was warm out and she was breathing heavy, so we lingered for a few minutes.
She shared more about how she ended up in jail; what her next steps were (which she could move forward on since she now had gas for her car) and asked how I was doing. I shared a few things with her and she volunteered to hold me in prayer. We prayed together after I gave her some water and she went on her way.
These visits happen quite a bit. Not just with Doris, but with others. The need is usually emergency groceries, help with utilities or gas for the car. I provide what our small church can afford and walk away praying. And wishing I could say something more eloquently or provide more than I have. A magic wand would be the ticket.
This time, something else happened. As Doris and I walked to the door, we shared a bit of small talk and then she headed out and I returned to my office. What was it about this visit that made me feel good?
Was it that I had relaxed more and listened more carefully to Doris’ story? Did I perhaps say the right thing, after all? Maybe it was the prayer I prayed while holding her dirty, sweaty hands.
It was none of those things. It was Doris. Doris had trusted me enough to share why she lost her benefits. She didn’t lie about the jail sentence. She risked that I would help her even though she had broken the law. (She broke the law for survival reasons.)
Doris had shown me a form of hospitality. But wait. Isn’t that my job?
Hospitality is a big word with big meanings. It’s more than the simple welcome to the stranger or the purchase of some gasoline for someone trying to get to work. It isn’t welcoming those who look like us, with our particular educational level (although, they deserve welcome, as well.)
Hospitality goes deeper. It’s aware of deep need. It doesn’t judge. Hospitality is love met with love. Not the syrupy kind of love, but that tough, gritty love that Jesus displayed over and over again.
Hospitality demands that we look at the sinfulness in our own lives and repent any position of privilege we may hold. Hospitality isn’t about us, but about the one God puts in our pathway.
Hospitality feels awkward, at times. We keep working at it. Hospitality acknowledges that God is at work and so we depend on God for the right words, the right thoughts (not necessarily pious ones, either!) Hospitality gives and receives God’s grace. Hospitality opens us up to the needs of others: emotional, physical, spiritual. The entire person.
Hospitality is compassionate. It’s open and honest, free of manipulation and desire for personal gain. Hospitality has its own reward.
Hospitality meets the other where they are. It walks with Jesus and tries to discern what Jesus would have us do. It knows that things get distorted, that sometimes we’ll get taken. But, that doesn’t matter, because for just a moment the receiver got a glimpse of grace.
So what do we do? We notice the person that crosses our path and we pray what the Spirit tells us what to pray. We acknowledge that what we see may not be reality and if it is, we refuse to judge.
We listen carefully to the needs of others and what God would have us do. We pray for guidance and understanding. We eschew any attitude that has a simple answer for the ills in our society.
Doris helped me last week. She embraced me with honesty and trust. She taught me a few more tricks that the poor do to simply get through their day. God was present in that moment and I hope I’ll see Doris again.
The Doris’ of the world remind me who I am and to whom I belong. The Doris’ of the world remind me that my main job in this world is hospitality.
Even when I don’t like the look or the smell or the attitude of the one who God puts in my path.
All glory and honor be to God.