Recently I spoke three times at Ambrose University, where I teach, on the theme of hospitality. I used three texts – John 4, where Jesus meets a Samaritan woman, Luke 19, where Jesus meets a tax-collector named Zacchaeus, and Matthew 25, where Jesus divides all people on the basis of who ministers to him in the guise of anyone who is thirsty, hungry, naked, imprisoned.
Besides all three stories being about hospitality – welcoming those whom we instinctively want to turn away from – each story implicitly asks a question: how do we sustain such hospitality? How do we keep overcoming our own inertia and aversion and suspicion and weariness to care about people who, frankly, we don’t care about – who have no natural claim on our affections, and maybe have done things to forfeit our generosity? They’re not kin. They’re not friends. They’re not like us. Some have hurt us. Tax collectors have gotten rich on our backs. Samaritan women are home wreckers. Refugees – the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the imprisoned? They might take away our jobs.
The answer is hidden in plain sight: because this is exactly how Jesus welcomed you and me.
He sought me, loved me, welcomed me, forgave me, fed me, gave himself to me when I had done exactly nothing to earn it and precisely everything to forfeit it.
He did it, not just by being generous, but by taking my unworthiness on himself. Jesus says to people like Zacchaeus, like the woman at the well, like the prisoner, like me, “Blame me. Really, put all the blame on me. You can never, not if you had a thousand life times to live, make up for all the ways you fall short of the God’s glory. So give it to me. Hand it over, and I’ll take full responsibility for it. You can blame me.”
In my talks, I said the primary way Jesus showed us what God is like is by arms open wide. Arms spread wide is the classic gesture of welcome. But it’s also the necessary posture of crucifixion. It’s only because Jesus was willing to open his arms wide on the beams of the cross, taking all the blame on himself, that he can open his arms wide at the foot of the cross, welcoming all who are thirsty.
Why welcome those from whom I’d rather turn away?
Because he never turned away from me.