Thursday, August 28, 2008

From Charity to Hospitality

This week's scriptures are Matthew 9:10-17 and Revelation 3:14-22.

One of the most scathing indictments brought against Jesus and his ministry was that he would eat with anybody. To share a table with persons who were notorious sinners, who were sick, who were ritually unclean...with all the meaning that Jesus' culture attached to 'table fellowship' was a scandal. As icing on the cake of their accusations, these same persons referred to Jesus as a "glutton and a drunk." That way they could write off the challenge to their ideas of holiness that Jesus' behavior presented....after all, he was just partying with these folks for the food and the booze...probably too bombed to realize the kind of people who were hanging out around him. In fact, in a story we'll be looking at in a few weeks, the people watching Jesus said (my loose translation), "if he was really God's guy, he'd know what kind of woman this is fawning all over him."

Charity...giving alms to the poor...that was one thing. You can look down at someone you're giving charity to-in fact that's one of the great temptations about charitable giving. But to do the things (particularly eating with them) that symbolized relationship and equality-that's a whole 'nother ball game.

Some years ago, while living in another city, I passed a man in an alley pulling food from the garbage can. I watched for a moment as he pawed through the scrapes and pulled up a large piece of discarded pizza. At that point I called out to him and motioned him to follow me into the resturant whose garbage can he was rummaging through. I gave the clerk some money and told him to give him whatever food he wanted-but no alcohol-and that the rest was his tip. When the street person looked at me and asked why he couldn't have the change, I said, "do you want to eat or not."

I walked out feeling very, very good about myself. I had feed the hungry. I hadn't contributed to the man's (I thought obvious) addiction. And I'd left a nice tip for the resturant waiter. What a truly fine person I was.

I look back on this incident now with some shame. This wasn't hospitality...it was charity...and an arrogant, contemptous charity at that. I didn't welcome this man into my circle. I related to him as a thing-a homeless addict. I judged his life based on his poverty and the level of need to which he had fallen. I did not-would not/could not-see that in a country where most of us live 3-4 morgage or rent payments (or less) away from homelessness, that this man and I had much more in common than we had different. And to top it off, I just naturally assumed that his condition was the result of an addiction...it had to be his fault. I have often thought it strange that when you or I or one of our friends comes home from a really rough day and pours a drink...it's "taking the edge off a bad day." But when a homeless person drowns their pain with Mogan David 20/20 they put themselves in the catagory of the "undeserving poor."

So I ask myself the famous question, "What would Jesus do?" And I'm not totally sure of the answer...or at least the whole answer. But here's what I believe would have happened in part:

Jesus would have walked up and said, as he stuck out his hand, "hey, I'm Jesus. How about having lunch with me."
And, when he got that 'what do you want in return' look (cause if you've always got to be working an angle to survive, you figure everybody else is too), he'd have just laughed and gone, "just lunch...you'll be good company...come on."

They'd have walked into the resturant and Jesus would have sat down with this man. They'd have both ordered. Maybe they'd both have a beer-who knows. And Jesus would listen. Maybe the man would tell his story. Maybe he'd want to talk about the Red Sox. Jesus would share the table...his time....himself. No judgement. No distance. Just Jesus.

Now that's hospitality. But you know Jesus....he'll eat with anybody....even you and me.

See you Sunday.
Shalom,
Stephen

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

Posted audio 09/03/08. Enjoy!