Welcoming Jesus

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Ordinary Time 13
July 2, 2023
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: If you have ever been surprised by the sudden appearance of in-laws at the door of your home, you know that hospitality can be a burden. If we never had to serve another turkey dinner or grill steaks on the barbie for guests, it would not bother us in the least. Yet, at some point, we cannot get away from the fact that Jesus encourages us to be welcoming. Fine. Does that mean anything more than simply being polite?

At times, many of us no doubt think of hospitality as did Rita M., the host of a large family gathering that also included some neighbors. They were celebrating the Fourth of July with a barbecue and dinner. After everyone was seated at three tables arranged in a horseshoe shape, Rita turned to her golden-haired 7-year-old daughter and said, "Willow dear, would you like to say the blessing?"

"I wouldn't know what to say," replied the little girl, shyly.

"It wasn't a suggestion, dear. We pray every day in this house. Just think back a little and say what you've heard Mommy say, sweetie, and you'll be fine."

Willow nodded and took a breath, folded her hands piously and solemnly said, "Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner!?"

Her words are perhaps a verbatim translation of the question Andrew, or one of the other disciples, put to Jesus as he prepared to feed more than 8,000 people of the banks of the Sea of Galilee: "Dear Lord, why on earth did you invite all these people to dinner?"1 The answer is that "he had compassion for them"2

Matthew records that story in chapter 14. Here, in chapter 10, he offers a rationale for Jesus' actions later when faced by a crowd of thousands, like sheep without a shepherd. It has to do with welcoming, or as many translations put it, "receiving." Jesus was a welcoming person; a receiving person. And since the word welcome appears six times in verses 40 and 41, this is the theme that draws our attention in this text.

Jesus, the welcomer

Henry Brinton, pastor and author of The Welcoming Congregation: The Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality, writes in the introduction that "throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, welcoming children, talking with women (even foreign women!), and healing those who were considered unclean and estranged from the community of faith."3

Jesus is not making any suggestions whatsoever as to how the local synagogue might be more welcoming to lazy and indifferent adherents to the faith. He is not suggesting coffee klatches, using name tags, welcome classes or breakfast gatherings at the Pig 'n Pancake.

A quick glance of chapter 10 reveals that the entire chapter is exclusively devoted to Jesus' speech to his newly appointed disciples. He is giving them some advice before they set out on their peripatetic mission that will consume the next 36 months - give or take - of their lives together. "See," he says, "I am sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."4 He sounds an ominous note: "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (v. 28). His disciples were no doubt confused, as are we, by the cryptic nature of some of his inflammatory invective: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword."5 He announces that he intends to set fathers and sons and mothers and daughters against each other.

Then he adds, gratuitously, a reference to the one relationship in Jewish family life that would account for 93 percent of all Jewish humor in the centuries to follow, including our own, as surely anyone who's watched a Woody Allen movie must know: daughters-in-law v. mothers-in-law.6

It is at this point that Jesus wraps things up with a word about how to react to those who welcome them and those who don't - and then adding a final word of instruction about hospitality: "Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple - truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward."

Because Jesus welcomed or received others, we, too, might consider being open and welcoming of others, especially of others beyond our tribal borders and culture.

Fine. But what does it mean to be "welcoming"?

Welcoming is an attitude

To be welcoming is to exude an ethos of excitement and expectation. Welcomes are a smile, not a frown; open arms, not crossed ones. A welcoming spirit is a positive and upbeat one.

We encounter this atmosphere every day. When you were kids, and took the Chevy on a cross-country vacation, did you stop to take a photo at the state line where there was a huge sign that said, "Welcome to Wyoming"? Perhaps it was a different state. The whole family was excited. Wyoming likes us! So how could we not like Wyoming in return?7

Airports welcome us. Walmart welcomes us and even has greeters at its stores to tell us the good news. Indeed, a welcome is good news. We are accepted. We are wanted. More than that, here in Wyoming or at Walmart, everything will be done to make our vacation or shopping experience a safe and pleasant one.

Welcoming is receiving children

The old Sunday school song about Jesus loving the little children of the world is true. Jesus liked kids. The Bible tells us that some people brought children to Jesus so that he would place his hands on them and pray. The disciples scolded them, but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them: for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs."8 Then he blessed the children and went away from there.

Certainly, the church, or even any of us as individuals, cannot be welcoming if we hate kids! What kind of a church finds children to be annoying and total nuisances? A dying church, that's what.

But it's more than just being welcoming to children. For Jesus, children were a reminder of what he had to repeatedly stress to his disciples. Jesus had compassion and love for all members of society who, like children, were essentially weak and in need of constant care and supervision. Children are a reminder of what the church is all about. The church advocates for the weak and defenseless, those who are outsiders and those who need assistance.

To be a welcoming person or institution means much more than simply being friendly or tolerant. It means to work diligently to mentor and guide the needy, as we would children, and to provide them with what they need to be safe, to develop skills, to be unafraid and ultimately to make their own contribution to the culture in which they live.

Welcoming is seeing others through the eyes of Jesus

To embrace children or the vulnerable requires a fresh set of eyeglasses. We may need new lenses.

Unlike his disciples, Jesus saw people through open eyes. Jesus often had to tell his team to open their eyes. Jesus saw what others failed to notice. The disciples saw the blind beggar, for example, as a disturbance and nuisance. Jesus saw him as a person wounded by the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" and as one who had hopes and dreams, and - most important - as a person who couldn't see and who desperately wanted to.

In thinking about what it means to be a welcoming church or welcoming person, it is always helpful to ask how long it's been since we have seen the divine eye doctor. Jesus can help us with our eyesight. In fact, Jesus can give us his own eyes so that we can see others as he himself sees them.

Learning to be hosts

Millions of Americans, and additional millions around the world - whether we're talking about Peoria, Shanghai, Saskatoon, London, Oslo, Cairo or Mumbai - are opening a spare bedroom, a vacation cottage, a treehouse or even an entire apartment or house to total strangers who want to rent them. These hosts use Airbnb or Vrbo or other platforms as a means to find renters. The competition is fierce. No wonder these hosts quickly become experts on the art of creating a welcoming atmosphere.

As Christians, it would be wise to ask ourselves how we might welcome Jesus into our homes and churches. Jesus himself said, "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me." He also said to the angel of the church at Laodicea, "Look! I'm standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me."9

Like Rita of the opening story, we may wonder why on earth we invited Jesus into our house. But leave it to children to be unafraid. "I would dress up in my fanciest clothes," says Kalyn, 8. "IThen, I would cook something delicious. And when Jesus came, I would run and jump in his lap."

But J.T. says, "I would cook him stuff he never had 2,000 years ago. I would probably fix him pizza."10

Not sure how to welcome Jesus? "You want cheese on your burger, and fries to go, Jesus?" Here's a thought. "Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you."11



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