Quenching a Thirst

The Path of the Disciple: Learning to Grow

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

We’re about hospitality this week. That sounds like a casual, or maybe even an extra kind of thing. “It’s not something essential,” we might think. It’s part of the social niceties that make us look good. But, in fact, we would be wrong, if that was our position. Jesus sees hospitality as central to our discipleship.

You don’t have to be a sports fan to know that a common celebratory act by the winning team of an important game or championship is to pour cold water on the coach. My point is there are occasions when cold water is an act of celebration and congratulations. And it fits in nicely with Jesus’ reference to cold water as an act of hospitality.

Our Gospel text is short and sweet, straightforward and to the point. Except that we’ve got to take another look and figure out just what is going on here. But you knew that, right? You knew it couldn’t be as easy as it looked on the surface.

Let’s take a look at what is in here. First, we need to remember the context. It follows on the Gospel reading from last Sunday when we read the previous verses about shouting and whispering, about peace and swords, about sparrows and the number of hairs on our heads. Remember all that? Well, this is the conclusion of that speech.

Jesus is preparing his disciples to go out and tell the good news. It is their first mission trip. But instead of driving nails and cleaning up disaster areas, they are to knock on doors and ask if it would be all right to talk about Jesus. The particular instructions on how to conduct themselves on this mission are scanty at best. I guess they had to figure out that part on their own. Instead, Jesus wants to set the context, to give them the framework within which the mission is to take place. The “how to’s” are left up to us.

But he concludes with these words about welcoming. Now they read as though they are the responsibility of the others. “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me” (10:40). It is up to them to get that. This is, it appears, an escape clause for the disciples. If it doesn’t work then, that is their problem. No one can force anyone to listen and all of that. It is up to the recipient to get the response right. It is up to the convert or the potential convert to figure out how to respond. And if they miss it, too bad for them. We’ll just move on. They don’t want what we’re selling, well, tough luck.

It is true that we can’t force positive responses to Christ. In the end, free will means the freedom to say no as well as the freedom to say yes. And individuals have to bear the ultimate responsibility for their own souls. But there is too much in what Jesus says and does to allow us to get away with the “take it or leave it” approach to evangelism. There are too many examples of the responsibility of the community to care for one another; too many times when Jesus points out that our salvation is wrapped up in the salvation of our neighbor.

We need to read the passage again to see what Jesus is really telling the disciples (and us) about this sharing of the faith thing, this spreading of the gospel challenge that is before us. “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (10:40). What if the burden is not really on the one who responds (the one who “welcomes you”) but on the one who seeks to present Christ to the world? What if Jesus is not giving the disciples a free pass on this hospitality thing, but is, in fact, significantly raising the bar? Your task, he says, is not just to go out and mumble some sort of invitation – like “You don’t really want to come to church with me, do you? Didn’t think so. I’m leaving now.” But instead, your task is to be Christ, to represent God as you meet and greet and engage in conversations with all and sundry.

“Well,” we think, “that isn’t my job; it is the job of the professional Christians – the pastors and evangelists. They are the ones charged with representing Christ. Isn’t that right?” Nope. That is why Jesus goes on to itemize in this passage: whoever welcomes a prophet...whoever welcomes a righteous one... whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones... Scholars have debated the differentiation in this passage, some concluding one thing and others another. But it seems to me that Jesus is trying to get us to forget this idea that there are those who are charged with being Christ all the time and the rest of us only have to worry about it for an hour or so once a week! Prophets could be the called-out ones, the pastors and teachers set aside by the community for a task. For Paul, the prophet was a traveling preacher who didn’t settle in an area but came through to stir things up and then move on. Righteous ones could be the leaders in the life of the church, the ones whose lives were examples of the faith and whose wisdom was sought out before any decision was made.

But the little ones? That was everyone else. Everyone. New Christians and lifelong saints. Young people and elders. We are to be the means by which those outside come to know who Christ is. We are to be the face of Christ to the stranger, to our neighbor, to our family.

Now there are two different responses to this passage, it seems to me. One is to become bearers of cold water. Because Jesus raises hospitality to eternal significance, we now take the task of hospitality more seriously. We re-examine our structures at church and ask how we are doing; we enlist more and more people in the task of welcoming until the church understands that it is everyone’s responsibility. We take hospitality as seriously as Jesus did.

The other response is to receive hospitality as Jesus tells us to do. The scripture literally is about receiving hospitality. So, how do we accept the cups of cold water that are given to us? Can Christ be seen in our gratitude as well as our generosity? “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,” says Jesus.

But then what do we say about this story in Genesis? The inclination is to just skip over it. There is too much to unpack, too much to face, too much trauma to unleash. And maybe that is best. Focus on the cup of cold water and let that powerful message hold the day. The sacrifice – or near sacrifice – of Isaac is too stark to be taken lightly. There should be no glib presentation of “all’s well that ends well” or “no harm, no foul” for this story. Certainly, we can live with the implication that the idea that God requires the sacrifice of our young is now ended. Until the atonement theories cause us to rethink this truth. And the final verse telling us that God will provide the sacrifice gives us pause or should.

Is there a way to fold this story into the whole idea of hospitality? Whom do we include and what do we surrender to make that inclusion happen? Perhaps that is a stretch. Certainly, there is much to ponder as we regard this tale. Perhaps it is best left for a Bible study setting where conversation and exploration can take place with all participants.

The God behind this story is elusive and somewhat incomprehensible, unlike the God we know in Jesus. We aren’t second-guessing this God, but simply declaring that there is something obscure here that is out of our experience. That is to be expected when we acknowledge that God’s ways are not our ways, as the psalmist declares. So, declare that we need to grow and to learn and to learn to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.

In This Series...

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes


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In This Series...

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes