Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” In our gospel lesson today, Jesus talks about hospitality.
When I hear the word “hospitality” I think of front doors with welcome mats, a glass of cold ice-tea (with sugar in it of course), and people welcoming neighbors who are new to the neighborhood. These are the images that come to my mind when I think of “hospitality”.
Hospitality refers to the relationship between a guest and a host, with the host offering generous and cordial reception towards the guest. Hospitality in the ancient middle-east was more than mere politeness, it was crucial and expected. The desert and arid land of the Middle East was a very harsh environment. The ability to receive water, food, and shelter could be the difference between life and death for travelers. Numerous passages in the Old Testament tell the Israelites to treat strangers and resident aliens well, as they themselves were once foreigners in Egypt.
I think that it is fitting that this week’s gospel follows the one from last week. Last Sunday, our gospel reading (Matthew 28:16-20) was the great commission. Jesus told his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Jesus sent his disciples out as representatives of himself – to preach the gospel that Jesus preached, to teach the lessons Jesus taught, and to baptize in the name of the Triune God knowing that Jesus is with them. The disciples were individuals, but they represented something greater than themselves – Jesus Christ.
Our culture is very individualistic. I think that there are definitely some good things to say about recognizing that people are individuals – people have different aspirations, desires, motivations, likes and dislikes. But as with all good things – you can take it too far. Individualism taken too far becomes selfishness and it isolates us from one another, it fails to recognize that we are part of a greater whole – we belong to groups of people in families, friendships, communities. And rightly or wrongly, what a few people do can reflect poorly on the larger group.