From Luke’s Gospel:
Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money – not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Luke 9:1-6 – October 17, 2012)
“Take nothing!” That’s not an instruction to be footloose and fancy free! When Jesus sends out the twelve with these instructions he is making them utterly dependent on the communities to which they may go; they are to rely completely on hospitality of others. Like Blanch Dubois, they are always to depend on the kindness of strangers.
What isn’t said in the gospel but is certainly implied is that there will be hospitality on which they can depend, that strangers will offer them some cool water to drink, a meal to eat, a place to stay. The apostles’ dependence implies a reciprocal obligation on the community to support them.
But hospitality is not, as church historian Christine Pohl wrote, “first a duty and responsibility; it is first a response of love and gratitude for God’s love and welcome to us.” (Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, Eerdmans: 1999, p. 172) Being hospitable to strangers is simply the way we ought to be in light of God’s unconditional acceptance of us, in the light of God’s grace; indeed, graciousness might be another word hospitality.
We don’t have many apostles showing up at our churches these days with nothing, but everyone who comes through a church’s doors has a need. They may not recognize their need; they may not be able to articulate their need; but everyone has unmet needs. The church may be unable to meet those needs, but we can offer hospitality and grace and a place to learn how to recognize and articulate them. The first step to getting needs met is learning how to express those needs.
Perhaps Jesus was hoping that, in their own neediness, the apostles would learn how to respond to others in need. It’s not clear, however, that they did. As today’s gospel lesson ends, the twelve find themselves surrounded by 5,000 people in need of supper, and all they can think to do is send them away. But Jesus tells them bluntly, “You give them something to eat.” (v. 13) Since they have relied upon the kindness of strangers, the hospitality shoe is now on the other foot! Since we have relied upon the graciousness of God, we are now walking in those shoes, too. But don’t worry! Whatever we have to offer will turn out to be more than enough.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.