Without an Invitation, Who Will Enter
Proper 9, Year B, RCL, Track 1
God often works in understated ways. Today we find Jesus in his hometown. Some of the people are amazed by how he speaks until they remember who he really is. He is one of their own, from their small town, and he seems to have gotten a bit too big for his britches. I’m sure that none of us have ever met someone who went away to college, became successful, and then tried to settle back in the town where they grew up. They speak a bit differently than we remember; they have new ideas, interest, and even new friends. This person says they wants to be our friend but they are hardly the same person we remember and they have a hard time fitting in with the old crowd. In response, these old friends try to impress us by exaggerating their new knowledge or ways of being. When this happens, we tend to be even more put off and the barriers between us become stronger and taller.
Jesus is met with a similar resistance in his hometown. However, Jesus wasn’t trying to impress them. His intention is to enlighten them to a new way of thinking. Something that is often hard for us to hear. But he knows at this point, no matter what he does or says, he isn’t going to change their minds. Sure, he could try to dazzle them with miracles, but this isn’t God’s way. Miracles are not meant to be a spectacle. So instead of trying to prove himself, Jesus leaves his old familiar friends to their own narrow thoughts. By leaving his hometown, Jesus is free to carry on with his mission; to reunite people to God.
When Jesus and the disciples arrive at the nearby villages, he sends the Disciples out, two by two. Hospitality is a funny thing. It takes at least two people: host and guest. Some people are natural hosts and are able to make others feel welcome in their home. This church seems to do a good job of welcoming people without overwhelming them. A few weeks back we had some guests and I saw one of you move next to them to help them with the juggling act of prayer book, hymnal, and bulletin. Mark’s Gospel talks about such people as the ones who received the disciples that Jesus sent. These hospitable people seem to be blessed by giving what they have to mere strangers.
But today, our story focuses is on the sent person rather than the host. Jesus sends the disciples two by two in which they are to seek hospitality by randomly showing up at a stranger’s house. He orders them not to take anything extra, no extra clothes and no money at all. These disciples would starve if it weren’t for the hospitality of their neighbors.
To our ears this may seem a bit unusual. Jesus obviously didn’t read the Miss Manners column in the paper in which we are not to invite ourselves to someone’s house. Don’t overstay your welcome. And when invited, don’t come empty handed, bring something like a loaf of bread or a bottle of wine. Some of us would be afraid to let a stranger into our homes and I imagine it would be nearly as awkward for the stranger as well.
I remember one summer in college I was caught with a 3-day gap between the time I had to move out of the dorm and before I could move into my apartment for my summer job. There was this guy John that I loosely knew. He invited me to stay with him at his parents’ house for the few days. They lived on a farm outside of Madison, Wisconsin where I was going to work. It was a bit strange; I hardly knew this guy at all, let alone his parents. But it definitely beat traveling all the way home to Illinois just to turn around and go back to Wisconsin. So I took him up on his offer.
We arrived early in the afternoon and it seemed a bit awkward. His parents were rather quiet and didn’t seem overly friendly. Just before dinner, his dad seemed upset about something. I asked John if everything was OK. He told me that his dad forgot that I was staying for a few days. Tension was thick during dinner and the conversation was halting. His dad tells us that he was just laid off from a job, knowledge even John didn’t possess yet. No wonder there was tension in the house. I really felt like I was imposing and offered to stay somewhere else but they wouldn’t have anything to do with it. As dinner progressed, the mood lifted a bit as we got to know each other better. By the end of the next day and after doing some chores with John around the farm, I didn’t feel like such a stranger anymore. His parents were genuinely glad that I was there, and his mother seemed to enjoy feeding two hungry boys.
Getting to know people can be a bit awkward. It takes time to get to know one another. But even before we get to know someone we need an invitation. The Disciples, knocking on random doors, need to be invited in before entering someone’s home. I was fortunate to be invited to stay in a stranger’s home. A home in which I received wonderful hospitality. We also can invite people into God’s home, this church. We may question if a random person is a good fit but this is not our Job. We may know the person from a previous point in our life, but we can’t hold that against them. People can come into our life seemingly with nothing and end up offering us a lot. For some people, all it takes is an invitation, for without an invitation, who will enter.