You Are Welcome
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
Jesus said, "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
The Gospel reading today is peppered with the word, “Welcome.” We hear this word repeated several times. So I am going to comment on just that one word. Let me begin with a story told by the great Jewish religious philosopher, Martin Buber. I am paraphrasing here what he said.
One day, a great and important rabbi was invited by an equally important and influential person to his house. When the great rabbi arrived at the entrance of the home, he saw that the carpet was laid out for him, and all the beautiful lamps were lit to mark the occasion of his visit. He then asked his host if he did this to anyone who came through the doors of his house. The man replied that he only did this to people he felt were important, powerful, and wealthy. Then the rabbi refused to enter. He believed that all human persons were children of God deserving equal hospitality. The great rabbi did not enter until the host agreed to treat all who presented themselves to his home with equal respect and accorded the same dignity- be they poor or rich, powerful or vulnerable, young and old, man or woman.
The other day, as I was waiting for a bus, a panhandler came to me asking for money. I was inclined to dismiss her. I basically didn’t have enough money in my pocket except for the bus fare and I was about to refuse her request except that I remembered that I had a dime somewhere in my other pocket. Also I remembered a poem I carry in my prayer book, a poem of a priest who referred to people in the streets passing him by as his “momentary flock”, that is, the people we see in the streets and who come even so briefly in our lives are sheep of God, and they also are vessels of the presence of God. Those momentary sheep must not be dismissed. And so as I gave her a dime, and struck a conversation with this aging panhandler. During our brief, she touched my heart and soul as if God had spoken to me. There was nothing particularly grand or special in what was spoken between us. But the brief dialogue between two disarmed and unguarded hearts was for me, mysteriously enough, a holy encounter, a holy ground in that she became the face and voice of God for me that day. Now if I had dismissed this woman, I would have missed a great thing.
At the heart of Jesus’ ministry is radical hospitality in which he welcomed everybody to his presence. All human beings are to be welcomed because all belong to the flock and sheepfold of God. This includes especially those who society avoided or treated with contempt. We all have a type of person we want to avoid or perhaps, someone we would not want to have anything to do with. For me, I struggle with difficult people who are negative or who take up so much my attention and energy that I am left exhausted. I think many of us would agree that we would have a hard time welcoming people who have hurt us. Perhaps, sometimes, in fact, we want to hurt those who wronged us. Martin Buber related an ancient rabbinical story of how the people of God ought to treat those who wronged them. I paraphrase his story.
Once a student came to the rabbi and asked him, “Don’t you think it is acceptable to hurt someone who wronged us?” The rabbi replied, “No.” Then the rabbi told this story. When God created human beings he placed a spark of himself in the souls of each human being. So when each human soul is born in the world, the spark of divinity is scattered throughout the world. It also means that the one who wronged you has the divine spark in himself, and to slap him is to slap the face of God.” Then the rabbi continued, “Each human person comes from God like you come from God. Each is a member of the body of God. Now tell me something, if your hand, a member of your body, does something wrong, do you take a stick and beat it? I think not. Likewise, you must not treat your neighbor, a member of the body of the God, with violence.” This accords much with what Jesus said about loving those who we dislike or who dislike us- our “enemies.” They, too, deserve a “welcome” for we are all part of the one Body of God. Welcome does not mean that we submit to their abuse. Nor do we need to pretend to be friends with them when we know we cannot. A friend of mine, James, told me this: “To love your enemies does not mean you make a weekly lunch date with them. It simply means that you will not do harm or violence to them.” Hospitality includes commending them to God. The most difficult prayer for me is when I pray for those who hurt me. But at least once a week, I devote one prayer time for those I find annoying or those who I dislike or dislike me. I have to remember them in my prayers for they, too, are part of the Body of God. They cannot be separated from God and from me.
The Gospel today challenges us all to reflect on Jesus’ message of radical hospitality. Who do we welcome readily? And who do we have a difficult time welcoming in our lives?
© 2014 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a queer Filipino priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
Photo: Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), atop of Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
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