Mom was a stickler for manners. Grinding into us “please & thank you,” how to answer a phone, hats off indoors, respect for elders, speak up when spoken to. I remember when our neighbor told my 6-year-old self that since we shared a name I could call him “Gordon.” Mom damped out that joy the moment I told her what “Gordon” had said. “No, you will not! It is Mr. Benneto!”
Her specialty was table manners. Elbows off, backs straight, don’t rock your chair, mash potato art is unacceptable, which utensils to use, and clean your plate. Which was mom-code for “Eat Your Vegetables.” Which, unless beets or tomatoes went down ok.
Of course it was not until adulthood that I realized there is a reason for parental training. It is to prevent us from making fools of ourselves in public! I still remember the epiphany I had when I was twenty-five and a guest in a fancy house, at an elegant table and I knew how to behave, how to make my way through an elaborate table service. And how to cut the beets into small, itty bitty bites, and swallow with a bit of taste-masking mashed potatoes!
In the gospel story today, Jesus sends out an advance team. It is not a battalion of soldiers, or the elite of the world. It is not a carefully selected group of the best and the brightest. It is simply 72 disciples made up of tradespeople and tax collectors. Really, the least of the least.
They are testing out their sea legs of faith. Ordinary travelers, in need of hospitality. Jesus instructed them not to pack any bags or make any reservations. They go forth equipped only with the gospel and the hope of hospitality. They are vulnerable, and they depend on those they meet along the way to meet their physical needs for shelter, food and safety. They are to enjoy the hospitality offered them and to move on when they are not welcome.
No needless suffering is required. What is required, however, is vulnerability. The disciples have to rely on the grace and provision of God to take care of them on their journey. And as they do, they experience the strength, resilience, and capacity of themselves to manifest the power of God.
They have travelled with Jesus for just a few months. They’ve shared a table with him. They’ve heard his teaching, seen his healing, marveled as he met with strangers, foreigners, aliens to their culture. Like mom’s training to eat my vegetables, that’s all they carry with them out into the world, a few months of training to receive hospitality when offered, to walk on, when it is not. No added suffering, no angry curses or brow-beating for those who will not welcome them or hear the gospel.
John Koenig, in his book, New Testament Hospitality, offers insight into Jesus’ methods in sending the disciples. “Undergirding the great importance attached to openness toward guests,” he writes, “was a hope shared by first-century Jews that God would act as bountiful host as the end of time by entertaining Israel at an endless feast.” That is to say, first-century Jews hoped that by welcoming the stranger themselves, God would receive them into the kingdom just as hospitably.
Jesus sets up his disciples to work in the same way God most often works, not with impressive credentials or promises of quid pro quo for hospitality. The Jesus way requires trust on the part of those going and those to whom the disciples are sent. The Jesus way calls upon the deepest wells of human goodness in order for the plentiful harvest to be gathered, shared and used to feed the world.
Consider what Jesus is demonstrating for us. Two by two they go, no safety net, no security, just go out and heal, confront evil and rely on the comfort of strangers. The model here is trust. Trust placed in God. Trust placed in unexpected people. Trust placed in unexpected directions. Trust me, Jesus tells them, an abundant harvest is out there.
What we see in this story is that wholeness comes with listening to those often dismissed. What we see is that heeding the wisdom of people often ignored, leads us to Christ. What we see in this story is that practicing a humility seldom exercised opens doors of welcome and refreshment. What we see is that practicing an expansive hospitality not often seen in a world filled with fear and bent on self-protection answers the knock of Jesus on our doors.
God’s healing comes to us when we squelch our all-too human assumptions and open ourselves to the divine in our midst. The disciples report that even demons submit to those whom God sends when we set aside suspicion and greed, our pride and our wariness, and instead trust God’s power. Trust God’s providence. Trust God’s provision.
Imagine for a moment how different our discussions and actions would be around almost any challenge if we truly believed that God not only could, but will, provide for all involved. Imagine if we believed, truly, that we are Jesus’ advance team. We are the ones sent without worldly security. Without worldly status. But we are equipped with the power of God to heal, to cast out demons, to dine with strangers, to visit the places of suffering and despair and rejection in our world. All the places Jesus would send us.
Imagine if we entered those places with humility, with hopeful expectation, with joy when welcomed, without malice when rejected. All the while knowing we are but the advance team. Jesus will come after us. Which is to say the work is not solely up to us.
Imagine if daily we sought to receive the hospitality of strangers. Imagine if daily we sought to offer hospitality to those in need of food, shelter, and a place of rest. Imagine if daily, we sought to listen to those whose voices do not get heard. Imagine if daily, we prayerfully spoke the God-given words we too often silence for fear of sounding foolish or being ridiculed.
The truth of this story is that God works miracles through ordinary people when we trust, not ourselves, not our fears, not our desires, but trust God at work through and with us all.
Imagine if we simply went, two by two, trusting God. Trusting God’s power, God’s providence God’s provision, to eat the vegetables and listen to the stories that folks will share with us. Not everyone will welcome us. There will be disappointments, heartbreaking failures. We will see cruelty, meanness, injustice and unmitigated hate.
Yet we will also discover, and extend, human kindness, generosity, love, and humility in the middle of unspeakable desperation and relentless mercy where even the demons submit to us in the name of Jesus Christ. And we will witness and share in the miracle of Christ’s healing presence.