As I prepare for Sunday, and think about the Gospel Lesson, here are my thoughts.
Nothing will hurt you, Jesus says. Don’t get too excited about this though because even if the spirits submit to you — what really matters is that your names are written in heaven. That’s important. You should know that — you who have gathered the harvest, you that have labored for the gospel, you that have tried to bring about peace. Because surely things have hurt you along the way. That line about lambs in the midst of wolves rings true. You felt that and so it’s really important for you to remember now that your name is written in heaven. God’s got a place for you. Nothing will stop that so that it seems we might even be able to say that nothing will hurt you.
But, let’s be clear: this isn’t about you. This isn’t about the awesome things that you did for Jesus. This isn’t about the many things you have accomplished or the far off places you reached. This is really about the message. Not the messenger, but the message.
And this message is really important. It’s so important that you’re encouraged to be really rude as you try to share this message. Don’t greet anyone on the way. This is important, so get moving. But, let’s be careful again because this isn’t an opportunity to become self-important. This isn’t about you. It doesn’t matter how well you abide by the rules that Jesus sets out here. You may have checked all of these things off the list. No purse. Check. No bag. Check. No sandals. Check. Greet no one on the road. Double check. But, this isn’t about how well you do any one of these things. It’s about the message.
And the message is this: accept hospitality. Because this is what the kingdom of God is all about — sitting around together and enjoying food, assuring each other that everything will work out in the end. That’s when the kingdom of God has come near. Some people won’t get it. They won’t want to sit down. They’ll be in a hurry. They may even think that they have found a better way. But, since the time that the Torah was written, we have believed that wanderers are to be treated like family. They are to be welcomed and fed and fiercely protected. You might not do these things for your family — but our faith claims that we’re supposed to do it for the wanderers. No questions asked. Just do it.
But people don’t — and Jesus knows this when he sends out the 70. Some people are going to remember the Torah. Some are not. Some are going to care if you point this out to them. And with others, it’s really best to walk away without any of that dust clinging to your feet. Sure it can feel like we’re lambs in the midst of wolves, but it’s still our job to feed, welcome and protect the wanderer.
The Senate did it. Empowered by the gang of eight, they voted to protect the wanderers. They voted to make that amazingly long 13 year path to citizenship a little bit easier for our immigrants. I watched this unfold through the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness. They were there reminding us to take action around the Corker-Hoeven amendment and are keeping an eye as the bill moves into the House. What lies ahead for this legislation is uncertain so we have to keep talking about it. But, statistics and facts aren’t usually what grab us. What grabs us is a story — a story like the one that the journalist Maria Hinojosa told in her keynote at the United Church of Christ General Synod last week.
Maria was working in New York City for CNN just after 9/11 when she met Julia. Julia lost her husband — her undocumented husband — whom she couldn’t find. Maria put the news out — and it wasn’t until December when her phone rang. On the other end, there was a gay hairdresser in Maine… with a southern accent. (In the way that this article is written this sounds like this is a strange thing. From my own experience of Maine, this doesn’t sound so weird. Or maybe I knew too many gay hairdressers.) This hairdresser, whose name was AJ, had heard the story and raised money for Julia. He was now ready to come to NYC to meet her and give her a big check. Julia had never in her life met a gay man.
And that’s the thing about this Gospel Lesson. It makes it sound like we’re supposed to do all of these things — eat and drink and cure and even preach. It almost seems like we should check these things off a list. But, the hardest part — as Julia quickly learned when AJ greeted her in the airport — is accepting the hospitality you’re given. Because it might not look like what you’re used to or what you might expect. It’s why it seems so important to hear those words in the end: nothing will hurt you. Because when you welcome hospitality — when you eat and drink with the last person you ever expected to — that’s when you know nothing will hurt you. Your demons weren’t what you thought. So you should probably rejoice and as you do don’t ever stop accepting hospitality.
And if I can edit Jesus’ words slightly: offer it too. Welcome and feed the wanderer. Protect them better than you might protect your family. Accept that this is all part of what God has in mind when you are promised that your names are written in heaven.