Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
A Reflection On Mark 6:7-13

by Noel E. Bordador

At the beginning of each day, I say a simple prayer that goes like this: “Lord, take me where you want me to go. Let me meet who you want me to meet. Tell me what you want me to say, and keep me out of your way.” Father Mychal Judge wrote this prayer. Many of us have heard of Father Judge. He was the Franciscan priest and chaplain of the NYC Fire Department who died on 9/11 as he accompanied and ministered to rescue teams at the disaster site at the World Trade Center. As I reflected on the Gospel reading, I thought of this prayer, perhaps because it summarizes the Gospel message of our call to service and mission.
“ Lord, take me…” The Gospel passage begins with the commissioning of the “Twelve”. While we may think of the twelve as that intimate group of men with whom Jesus hung out, in the NT, the Twelve is rather a symbol of the new community of God in Christ. So, it is the entire Church, all of us, and not just “church professionals”, who Jesus calls and sends on a mission.

“Lord, take me where you want me to go.” In the Gospel, Jesus is said to be roaming among the Galilean villages, not in the big cities. Jesus goes about his ministry in the margins of society. These places were marked with great poverty, sickness, high mortality, and great discontent with life. Jesus sends his disciples to these marginal places where hope has gone stale. In our call to mission, God sends us even to those places where it would be easy for us to avoid, places where we won’t want to go, places of pain, places that are not glamorous, even places where we would be in harm’s way.

“Let me meet who you want me to meet.” The places where Jesus sent his disciples were inhabited by “impure people,” people with “unclean spirits”. Being unclean meant a whole lot of things. Being labeled impure brought a person shame, loneliness, and perhaps, despair. In its broad sense, impurity was a social stigma attached to all sorts of condition that often led to rejection by society and religious community. Being a shepherd, for example, was considered an impure job. Ironically, the early Christian community spoke of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, ironic precisely because of the low and impure status of a shepherd. But perhaps, it was intentional. Jesus identifies with the impure and the rejected. While we might want to consider our postmodern society as an “enlightened” one, we have our own catalogue of people that we would consider “unclean.” In my work as a social worker, for example, with persons living with HIV/AIDS, or the homeless, or the mentally ill, or those who have a criminal record, similar pernicious prejudice, and rejection is at work in our society to keep them invisible in the margins. Yet, it is to the people which society considers unclean that Jesus sends us. We cannot focus our mission solely to people whom we like. We cannot focus our mission solely to people who are like us.

“ ‘Tell me what you want me to say,’ not only by my words, but also by my actions.” Jesus sends the twelve to heal. While the Gospel passage speaks of casting out demons, and curing the sick, there was more at work than simply exorcisms and physical cures. If being impure meant banishment from the community, then the healing of what made one impure would mean one’s restoration to community. So by healing, Jesus provides a community that welcomes those who have not been welcome by society. By healing, what Jesus does is create a new community that has an alternative vision of life, a society in which the love of God in Christ transcends social and religious divisions. All are equally beloved children of God. God never rejects any one he has loved into existence. And it would be contrary to the Gospel to think that any one whom God forethought and loved into being would be cast aside and rejected as impure, unworthy of God. So the healing mission in which Jesus sends us must involve healing of what unjustly divides God’s children.

“Keep me out of your way.” When Jesus sent his disciples, he asked them not to take anything with them, no money, no extra clothing, no bread. If healing of division is to occur, then the disciples must strip themselves of anything- whether wealth, status, privilege or political clout- that would divide the disciples from those to whom they are sent. If these things would lead to divisions among the disciples, then these things would be in the way of the proclamation of the Gospel. The proclamation of the Gospel will be emptied of its integrity and power by such divisions. The disciples must teach that it is not wealth or power or clout or privilege that makes one great. Rather, the nobility of our nature, the nobility of our personhood has something to do with being God’s children. Whoever we are in society, we are all equally children of God.

Jesus further tells the disciples not to worry because their material needs would be taken care of by those to whom they proclaim the Gospel. In Mark, Jesus tells them to seek refuge in any house they find a welcome. In Luke’s Gospel, however, there is an added command to eat and drink with those to whom they are sent. These seem to be rather benign instructions. But in fact, they are not. For to enter the house of the impure, and to eat with the unclean was a major transgression of societal norm that kept separate the unclean from the pure. You are not only what you eat; you are also who you eat with. Jesus pushes the envelope by asking the disciples to push beyond social barriers, to violate the socially acceptable practice of hospitality, by offering a far more radical hospitality of open table fellowship with those whom they would not normally invite to dinner. By insisting that the disciples welcome and eat openly with those who come to the table regardless of who they are- poor or rich, young and old, sick and healthy, saints and sinners, friends and enemies of the Gospel- Jesus then seeks to overturn any table that denies space to any of God’s people, especially those considered least by society. In this open table fellowship, Jesus offers a vision of a community, a society which he called the Kingdom of God, symbolized by a different kind of Table, the Table of his Body and Blood, where he offers himself freely to all who desire to come just as they are, regardless of who they are. The Good News of the Kingdom is that all are welcome to Jesus’ dinner party here. Jesus does not discriminate at this Table. It is this open and radical hospitality that we are called to practice here around the Lord’s Table, and it and in every table fellowship outside of here.

“Lord, take us where you want us to go. Let us meet who you want us to meet. Tell us what you want us to say, and keep us out of your way.” Amen.

 

© 2003 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a gay Filipino priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.


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