God’s hospitality

Lent 3

Luke 13:31-35

Marian Free

In the name of God who invites us to invite him in. Amen.

The study which we at Hamilton are using this Lent and for the Bible Studies during the year is titled: “The Hospitality of God”. Its author, Brendan Byrne argues that a central theme running through the Gospel of Luke is that of hospitality. His evidence for this is the number of significant occasions on which Jesus is a guest in the home of someone or present at a meal. For example, his visits to the homes of Simon and Zacchaeus, and the dinner with the Pharisee which follows today’s gospel reading. Jesus hosts the Passover meal and joins two disciples when they stop for the evening at Emmaus. It is not just the meal which is important, but the fact that on these occasions, much of Jesus’ teaching takes place.

Luke is doing much more than simple reporting. The theme of hospitality provides an over-arching purpose. In the person of Jesus, God has entered the world as a visitor. This raises the questions: “How will Jesus/God be received?” and “What sort of hospitality will Israel and the rest of the world offer to this divine visitor?” Interestingly, the theme has a flip-side. Those who offer hospitality to Jesus find themselves invited into the hospitality of God. The one who comes as a guest is revealed as the host.

This guest/host reversal is demonstrated in the account of Jesus’ meeting with Zacchaeus the tax-collector. This man, who was generally avoided and reviled because of his profession finds himself in the unlikely position of offering hospitality to Jesus. At the same time, Zacchaeus who was marginalized and rejected, discovers that he has become the recipient of hospitality or welcome. By choosing to visit Zacchaeus’ home, Jesus demonstrates an acceptance and inclusion, bringing the one who was excluded back into the fold. By saying: “He too is a son of Abraham”, Jesus indicates that Zacchaeus is a member of the people of God.

According to Luke, when someone welcomes Jesus they find themselves welcomed in return and drawn into the hospitality of God – no matter who they are.

Of course, even an untrained eye could observe that there is a great deal of inhospitality in Luke’s gospel. The Pharisees in particular, appear to want to shut Jesus out. Not only are they unable to welcome Jesus, but their failure to welcome him means that they effectively turn their back on the hospitality of God.

More subtle than the rejection of God’s hospitality by the Pharisees is the failure of Israel. The dilemma which faced the Christian community at the end of the first century was the puzzling and confusing fact that while a great many Gentiles had accepted the gospel and joined the community, those to whom the gospel was promised, had not only not accepted it, but had turned their backs on it. How was this to be understood? The issue facing the community was: “tCould God’s promises be believed, if those whom God had chosen appeared now to be the unchosen? Luke is at pains to provide an assurance that God’s promises can be trusted. He does this by demonstrating the failure of God’s people to offer hospitality.

All of which brings us to today’s gospel in which we see that the visitor (who is rejected), becomes the host (whose hospitality is rejected) which demonstrates that the promise is fulfilled, but that those to whom God extends the invitation refuse the invitation. There are four parts to the account – the rejection by the Pharisees, the anticipated rejection by Jerusalem, Jesus’ invitation and its rejection and the summing up.

In the first instance we meet the Pharisees, who appear to be warning Jesus not to continue. If this seems out of character, it is because it is. The Pharisees’ general antagonism towards Jesus should warn us that something else is happening here. In fact, it would seem that it is their intention not to warn Jesus but to prevent him from going to Jerusalem. (Herod’s attitude towards Jesus is generally benign.) The Pharisees seem to understand the significance of Jesus’ going to Jerusalem and they want to persuade him not to go for one of two reasons. If he can be tricked into not entering Jerusalem, they will be able to claim that he is not a true prophet. Alternatively, if they can keep him away, he will not be able to fulfill his destiny.

Real or imagined, the threat that Herod wants to kill him, will not prevent Jesus from fulfilling his mission – in the meantime he will continue to cast out demons and cure the sick. The Pharisees’ antipathy towards Jesus is an indication that they have refused to accept his hospitality.

Secondly, we are made aware that Jerusalem itself will not be hospitable – it has a reputation for killing or stoning its prophets (though in fact, it is primarily Jeremiah who has such a bad experience). Jesus knows beforehand what awaits him there but nothing can stop his present trajectory.

Thirdly, we hear of Jesus’ offered hospitality and its rejection. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often have I longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you were not willing!)  The visitor reveals himself as host. He has extended an invitation which has been turned down. He has opened his arms to embrace the people and they would not enter that embrace. There is nothing more that he can do.

Finally, the quote from Psalm 118 has one of two purposes. It could refer to a time when Jerusalem will welcome Jesus. Alternatively it could allude to a later part of the Psalm “the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone”. Their failure to recognise and welcome Jesus was, according to Luke, anticipated.

None of this is to suggest that Luke is anti-Semitic. He, with others of his generation is simply trying to grasp why it is that the Gentiles have apparently inherited the promises of Israel’s God and whether God can be trusted if the promises to Israel appear not been fulfilled.

All this gives us pause for thought. What sort of welcome do we give Jesus and having welcomed him are we prepared to move over and allow Jesus to become the host? Are we willing to be gathered under his wings or do we resolutely refuse to admit our need for his embrace?

In Jesus, God has visited the world. As part of that world what hospitality do we offer and are we willing to accept the hospitality offered by God?

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