Thursday, July 14, 2022

The Radical Hospitality of the Way of Jesus


“[S]ay to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.'” [Luke 10:11]


In today’s Gospel Jesus is sending out teams of disciples in pairs to go ahead of him to prepare the towns for the undertaking to which Jesus has devoted his life: the Kingdom of G_d. He offers them a series of instructions on how to proceed and how to respond to the receptions they will encounter.


11“Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” (LK 10:11)

Lambs in the Midst of Wolves

Jesus’ description is curious here: “I am sending you out like lambs in the midst of wolves.” Scholars who have studied this passage are fairly certain that this is probably the early Jesus movement speaking to us here and not Jesus himself. But it does reflect the understanding of that early group of followers. They were a fledgling movement surrounded by potentially deadly opposition.


Ernst Zimmerman, Christ and the Pharisees (1852-1901) 

As a sect of Judaism, they were opposed by those who saw themselves as its guardians. The gospels are full of accounts of Jesus’ confrontations with the scribes and the Pharisees not to mention the Sadducees in charge of the Temple in Jerusalem. At a very basic level, Jesus is seen as a threat to the religious status quo of Judea.

Moreover, as Judeans living in a Roman colony which is repeatedly rocked by uprisings, they are always under the ever-watchful eyes of Caesar’s empire. Little wonder Jesus is warning them here that they are vulnerable like lambs amidst ravenous wolves ready to chew them to pieces.


Sine Propria, Without Property

Another aspect that is curious is how Jesus tells them to prepare for their mission. “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.” Jesus is essentially sending them out as barefoot beggars. Like Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, they will be required to rely on the kindness of strangers if they are to survive.

In the middle ages orders like the Franciscans and the Dominicans would take this gospel passage literally, pouring out into the world as preachers, teachers and healers, in a desire to imitate Jesus. As mendicants, a nice word for beggars, they would depend upon the charity of others for their survival.

Francis of Assisi was clear that the principle of sine propria,  being without property, was essential to the spiritual lives of his friars. Francis recognized that the more property one owned, the more their time and energy would be required to defend that property against other claimants. Borrowing from a Gospel passage, it simply was too difficult to get through the narrow gate when one’s arms were full of possessions.   

So if the disciples were to have no money with them, trudging the hills of the Galilee barefoot, how would they survive? Jesus is pretty clear about that. Whenever they were invited into a home, they should begin by pronouncing peace upon that home. And they should eat whatever was placed before them. We should note here that for some of these homes, these devoutly Jewish disciples might well be offered food that was considered to be unclean. But Jesus is pretty clear about how they should respond – eat what is given you with gratitude. It is always a gift from G-d.


Engage Suffering, Proclaim Good News, Prepare the Way

So what is their mission there? It is three fold. First, the disciples were to engage in the healing of the suffering. No doubt there is enormous suffering in this place dominated by the extractive economy of the Roman Empire, an economy that uses up its slave labor and casts them aside when they can no longer continue working. The disciples have their work cut out for them when they arrive in these villages.

The second part of their mission was to proclaim the good news that the Jesus movement embodied: The Kingdom of G-d has come near! How do we know that? We know it by the villagers who open their homes to strangers, an act of radical hospitality. And we know it by those disciples who are able to get past their cultural and religious training to accept the offerings of their hosts. The Kingdom of G-d is marked by openness to the other, to the willingness to offer one’s gifts and the willingness of the other to accept them.

Caravaggio, Supper at Emmaus (1601)

All of this is part and parcel of the third reason for their mission. They are preparing the way for Jesus who will be arriving soon thereafter. It’s important to note here that Jesus holds no illusions about the reception he or his disciples will receive. Good news which calls its hearers to engage in radical hospitality and the healing of the suffering will not be welcomed by many. And that was as true in Jesus’ time as our own.

It’s also important to note here what Jesus does not tell his disciples to do. He doesn’t tell them to try to sell people a set of ideas. These disciples are not evangelizers. Their goal is not to gain converts to their theology. They are not there to save souls. Rather, they were called to be healers and offerors of hope, not salesmen of a belief system, a pattern which far too often ultimately speaks more about affirming the faith of the evangelizer than anything else. 

Brian Jekel, Healing of a Blind Man

Jesus does not tell the disciples that their willingness to engage these villagers should be conditioned on their willingness to share their beliefs. Rather, he says the key question is whether they welcome the disciples. If they don’t, the disciples should wipe the dust off their feet in protest. But even as they do that they are called to proclaim, “Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” In a world whose conditions readily give rise to despair, the ability to hope is priceless.

If there is a clear message in this gospel reading today, it is the centrality of radical hospitality to the Way of Jesus. This is a way that calls its followers to be open to others, often despite what our culture has taught us we should feel about them. That openness confronts all kinds of socially constructed barriers regarding those of different religions, places of origin, race and ethnicity and sexualities.


 To What Does the Way of Jesus Call Us?

So what difference does that make to any of us here today? First, our willingness to engage those we have been taught to avoid is called into question. The parable of the Good Samaritan provides a good example of how we are to proceed. The willingness of the Samaritan to help his hated Judean enemy in his suffering is the first half of that equation, the willingness of the Judean to receive that help is the other. We have much to learn from that example.


Congress and North Street, across from Boston City Hall, (June 28, 2022)

 Second, if the Way of Jesus is about healing, as today’s Gospel suggests, we are called to be agents of that healing. We live in a world that appears to be in a state of transformation. Where it will go is hard to see. But what is apparent in this reality is that there is much suffering that has been generated by these changes from the victims of mass shootings to those whipped into frenzies by our media which casts the other in diabolical terms. As followers of the Way of Jesus, the opportunities to be agents of healing are innumerable.

As a church, we also have the challenge of being places of radical hospitality. Do strangers feel they can come into our places of worship and be welcomed? Can they enter into our worship and our fellowship without fear of being judged or rejected? Have we made our parishes places of radical hospitality? 


Our General Convention was to consider removing the canonical requirement of baptism as a condition for receiving communion. That motion was tabled and will not be considered this year. But I suspect it will come up again in the future.

What might the radical hospitality of the Way of Jesus have to say to us in that deliberation? 

Anglican priest John Wesley, whose hymns are included in our hymnal, was highly concerned for the working poor, a concern ultimately ignored by an Anglican establishment content to watch that entire segment of its parishioners depart. Wesley argued that communion was a converting sacrament. He observed that when people came to our worship and were included in its central rite, they would want to know more about this way of following Jesus. When they did, catechism and baptism would follow.

I believe Wesley was right about this, perhaps because I began my religious life as a Methodist. But I also know that when I stand at the altar and hold the sacraments up to the assembled parish, my statement that these are “the gifts of G_d for the people of G_d” is a powerful statement. So far as I know, there are no other kinds of people. And whenever I serve as priest, there will be no barriers to anyone receiving who wishes to do so. It is my prayer that this change in our canons will be approved.

So our lesson has provided us much to consider. Where in our lives do our possessions become obstacles to our lives of faith? Where in our lives do we practice the radical hospitality of Jesus and where do we create barriers between ourselves and others? Where are we willing to be the recipients of the generosity of others? Where do we see suffering in our world and where are we the agents of its healing?  

I leave you with these questions knowing that all of us are called to wrestle with them. Let us remember that we are only called to do our part in responding to them. And let us remember that we are never alone in these endeavors. As our Baptismal Covenant puts it, “I will with God’s help.”

Let us pray:

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


A sermon preached on July 3, 2022, based on the lectionary of Pentecost IV, 2022, at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Saugus, MA



Harry Scott Coverston 

   Orlando, Florida

  If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

  Those who believe religion and politics aren't connected don't understand either. – Mahatma Gandhi

  For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d?  - Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures

  Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. - Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages (1993)

  © Harry Coverston, 2022



Following Jesus

And Jesus said, “Follow me.”  [Luke 9:59]


Today’s gospel reading comes at the end of a very long chapter of the Gospel of Luke that begins with the feeding of the multitudes on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and ends with Jesus in Samaria setting his face on Jerusalem. Along the way, Jesus is busy instructing his disciples about how they are to continue his way of living out their Jewish faith, a way that he called the Kingdom of G_d.


Carl Bloch, The Sermon on the Mount, 1877

Jesus is trying to prepare them for his departure. His commitment to this Kingdom of G_d, here and now, among us already but not yet fully present, is what compels him to go to Jerusalem. And it is clear from this account from Luke that Jesus is aware of the dangers that await him in Jerusalem. The Way of Jesus and the Kingdom of G_d that it proclaims is a costly endeavor.  

That was true in his day as well as our own.

Mutual Distrust, A Failure of Hospitality

There are a couple of aspects of this reading that merit our attention this morning. The first is his encounter in the Samaritan village. The Samaritans were a tradition of Judaism with a conflicted heritage. Located primarily in the Northern Kingdom of Israel and distinct from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, the Samaritans claimed their roots in the remnant of the ancient tribes of Israel who were not deported by the Assyrian army which conquered their kingdom in 721 BCE. They asserted that they were the keepers of the true Judaism as opposed to the religion centered in Jerusalem with its Temple which had been rebuilt only after the Judean intelligentsia returned from their own exile in Babylon. 


Delacroix, The Good Samaritan (1849)

In truth, this disdain and distrust worked both ways. The Judeans had little good to say about the Samaritans. When we see Jesus engaging them in the gospels or referencing them in his parables - the best known being the Parable of the Good Samaritan - he is challenging both the social as well as the religious understandings of  his day. Little wonder, then, when the Samaritans realized that Jesus had his face set upon Jerusalem, they wanted nothing more to do with him.

Where this becomes interesting is the response of the disciples to this rebuke. They propose to call down fire from the sky to destroy these inhospitable Samaritans.  It’s a move that New Testament scholars say suggests two stories from the Hebrew Scripture. In the first, the prophet Elijah calls down fire from heaven to ignite the offering he has made to demonstrate the power of YHWH and to expose the false religion of the Canaanite god Baal. Before the day is over, the priests of Baal will be slaughtered.

Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Julius, Fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah. 1794-1872

But the other story is closer to today’s lesson. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is a direct response by G_d to a failure of hospitality.  Not only has the city of Sodom failed to provide safe passage and overnight lodging for the strangers who turn out to be angels, the men of the city seek to demonstrate their control over the newcomers by engaging in physical abuse, the epitome of dominance in an honor/shame tribal culture. In the end, Lot and most of his family will escape but the cities of the plains will be consumed by G_d’s fiery wrath. All the later scriptural references to Sodom and its sister cities will speak of their sin as a failure of hospitality.


Where Do We See This Story Today?

We might ask ourselves where we see this story in our own lives and in the world around us. We live in a world where fire rains from the sky from drones and so-called smart bombs on apartment buildings and crowded market places consuming the human beings their launchers have constructed as enemies. Our nightly news is filled with images of their destruction. And in almost every case, the peoples in conflict both presume that G-d is on their side. It’s a very appealing belief as we all know. G-d and country is a common theme in every culture including our own.

                                            Kremenchuk Mall, Ukraine, bombed by Russian missiles, June 28, 2022

We also live in a world where our media and social media are full of constructions of those with whom we disagree, almost always in diabolical terms. How often have any of us wished to bring fire down from the skies on those we see as enemies of everything we believe and stand for? And how often do such desires play out on our evening news with a mass shooting in a school, a supermarket, a nightclub  or a place of worship?

If we are being honest with ourselves we might find that this destructive punishment the disciples are proposing is not so far removed from our own darkest sentiments. But note how Jesus responds – “[H]e turned and rebuked the disciples. Then they went on to another village.” The Way of Jesus precludes the pursuit of revenge. It demands that we recognize the image of G_d on the face of the other, even as they may do or say things we find unconscionable.

The latter part of today’s lesson draws that point into a little sharper focus. Jesus is the classic charismatic leader, drawing people from all walks of life eager to touch his garments, hear his words, just to be near him. Being in Jesus’ presence is like a mountaintop experience for many. And, like most who have such experiences, they want the magic to continue. They don’t want to come down from the mountain.


A Costly Way to Be Human

But Jesus recognizes that the Way he is proposing is costly. His insistence on radical hospitality places him at odds with the religious leaders of his own culture. The Gospels are full of references to Jesus being scolded for engaging unclean people, prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers.


Bohdan Piasecki, Last Supper (1988)

His Way of Jesus also places him at odds with the occupying Roman Empire. His talk of the G-d he calls Abba, Daddy, as king is direct refutation of the imperial religion which insists that there is but one king and one god. And that is Caesar.

And yet Jesus is intent upon living into this way of being human that he calls the Kingdom of G_d.  And he fearlessly heads into Jerusalem for a confrontation of both the Temple cult and the Roman Empire. Little wonder he ends up crucified.

No doubt the people who ask Jesus what they must do to follow him are sincere in their desires to do so. But they are also blinded by the overwhelming immediate presence of Jesus. What happens when he is gone? What will it mean to follow this Way of Jesus when he is no longer around to guide them? What might the Way of Jesus cost them? And how will that impact their lives thereafter.

To his credit, Jesus does not minimize that reality. He tells them foxes and birds have safe places to rest, but not the followers of Jesus. Familial duties will be trumped by the demands of the Way of Jesus. And many will begin down this road and simply find it too difficult, turning back to their old lives.


Following Jesus Today

So what does any of this have to do with us today? What does this story have to say to us in our daily lives? And what good news can we find in it?

I think we must begin with determining what the values of the Way of Jesus are. From today’s lesson we hear several – radical hospitality, self-restraint from engaging in retaliatory behaviors when we have been offended, the insistence of recognizing the humanity of those with whom we disagree, the caution we should observe in presuming the rectitude of our own understandings and even more so in our tendency to think that G-d necessarily shares our prejudices.

As writer Anne Lamott reports her Episcopal priest teaching her, “You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”  My guess is that the disciples in today’s lesson knew exactly what Lamott was talking about.

Our lesson also calls us to recognize that the Way of Jesus was costly in his own time as well as in ours. Living into the values that Jesus taught and embodied may place us at odds with our families, our friends and the wider culture around us. And yet, that has been the impact of what Jesus calls his followers to do from the beginning.

The good news is that we are not alone in this. My New Testament professor in seminary began all of his classes with a simple prayer: “Let us fall silent in the presence of G_d knowing that G-d is always present but becoming newly aware of it at this moment.” I find it comforting to know that G-d’s presence is inescapable. The only question is simply how aware of it we are at any given moment. 


Following Jesus is never an easy undertaking. Fortunately, we are not on our own here. In our Baptismal Covenant we answer every question posed to us with the response “I will with God’s help.” In that simple statement we acknowledge two things: our own essential role in responding to G_d’s call to us as well as the fact that we can never do any of this by ourselves.


Let us pray.

 O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[Contemporary Collects 16. For the Mission of the Church, p. 257 BCP]


                                                 Norman Rockwell, The Golden Rule (1961)


A sermon delivered on June 26, 2002, based on lectionary of Pentecost 3, 2022,, at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Saugus, MA.


Harry Scott Coverston 

   Orlando, Florida

  If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

  Those who believe religion and politics aren't connected don't understand either. – Mahatma Gandhi

  For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d?  - Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures

  Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. - Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages (1993)

  © Harry Coverston, 2022