As Jesus sat down to eat in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners joined Jesus and his disciples at the table.
Matthew 9:10, CEB
Recently, I preached at Catholic University for the Washington Theological Consortium’s New Student Orientation. Even though Catholic University’s campus is at the end of my current morning walk route, I had never been on its campus. So, when the Uber driver dropped me off that afternoon, I was not sure which way to go. My iPhone was dying and I only had a few minutes to find the right building. As I was standing on the corner, trying to find the original invitation, out of the corner of my eye, I detected a sea of cream. I looked up and saw a line of priest candidates walking two by two. I called out, “Are you all going to the student service?” Someone answered, “Yes, we are.” I smiled, “Great, I’m your preacher.” As I fell in line with one of the priests, I chuckled to myself and said, “God you are so awesome. You are always taking care of me.”
During our walk to the building, some of the group members and I got to know each other. The thing that struck me was the way they demonstrated a genuine interest in me. I can’t quite explain it, but I felt like someone actually wanted to know about my boring, creative nerd stuff. I didn’t see one cell phone the entire walk. I didn’t hear one beep, one ring, one ding, one ringtone. There were at least 50 men walking with me, and I didn’t hear one distraction. They were either walking in silence, talking to each other, or talking to me. In fact, I forgot all about my phone once I sent off an assignment that was due at 5pm. I was so caught up in the genuine human contact that I didn’t need it.
When I walked back across campus with another group of candidates for dinner, the same thing happened. I noticed how patiently they waited for all the guests as we explored the chapel, made our dinner selections, and asked stupid questions about being a priest. I never felt anything but genuine interest. What this genuine interest boils down to is genuine hospitality.
While we Protestants are not called to the same lifestyle of sacrifice as my Catholic brothers, we are called to demonstrate genuine hospitality. In the final analysis, these men simply listened, showed me the way, and shared their table with me. However, the way I felt was safe and special. That is the same way Jesus made people feel, even the tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus just has this knack for lifting our heavy burdens of living life. He just has this way of saying, “I am genuinely interested in you. Come and sit with me for a minute.” In that minute, Jesus changes our lives.
Is that not what the church, what we ministers, are called to do – listen, show people the way and share the Table and our individual tables? When people come to our churches – our tables – what do they find? Do they find acceptance, do they find mercy, do they find grace, do they find love? Do they find the way to Jesus Christ? Do they find genuine interest, a listening ear, a welcome table? Do they find genuine hospitality? In other words, do they find anything that looks remotely like what Jesus shared with the tax collectors and sinners?
On the flipside, do we allow others to show us genuine hospitality or do we try to go it alone? Do we try to be mini-gods, independent and invincible, or are we willing to call out to a sea of strangers – who may be dressed in cream – to ask for help along the way?
Are you one who as lost your way, searching for a place to be heard, to receive eternal sustenance at a table that never lacks? Jesus is standing at the door of his home, waiting to hear about out you.