“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous, and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” (Matthew 10:40-42, NRSVue)
Hospitality is a big thing in the Middle East. Jews and Arabs share an ancient and common history of caring for travelers who pass through their lands. For the Jews who relied on the hospitality of strangers as they wandered the wilderness in search of a home, making a place for “aliens” is a spiritual discipline of remembering God’s faithfulness to them. This memory requires that they extend grace to anyone in a similar situation. I’ve never tried to do it in my previous visits to the Holy Land; however, a Palestinian guide told me that if you tell someone you are coming to their house for dinner, they are obligated, at least culturally, to welcome you into their home as an honored guest. Plus, you get to stay as long as you want! Don’t get any ideas!
Christianity in the 1st century took hospitality even further. We read in Acts 2 how the Christians “held everything in common, and they gave to one another as they had needs.” You may recall how Jesus told Zacchaeus that he was going to his home for dinner in Luke 19, and Zacchaeus didn’t bat an eye before taking Jesus to his house. In the passage above from Matthew 10, Jesus highlights how those who welcome his disciples on their missionary journeys are receiving him. These verses echo the sentiments in Matthew 25, where Jesus said, “When you have done it to one of these least of these, you’ve done it unto me.”
The New Testament reinforces the idea that we must care for one another throughout life. In Genesis 4, when God asked Cain about his brother Abel’s whereabouts, Cain, hiding that he had killed his brother, responded with his own question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Jesus seems to answer that universal question, “Of course you are! We are all keepers of our brothers and sisters!”
This Sunday, I’m using Bill Withers’ song “Lean on Me” as the song on my playlist that illustrates the gospel lesson. As I have researched Withers, I have grown to love and respect who he is as a person as much as I have respected him as a musician. I have some exciting things to share about this man from Slab Fork, West Virginia, that may surprise you but also impress you as we discover his heart for others. “Lean on Me” was more than a song to Bill. It was a statement of his philosophy for living life well. When he died on March 30, 2020, the world lost a good man.
I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, and since it’s a holiday weekend, be sure to bring three or four friends!