From the riches of the Buddhist religion we have this story:
A young widower, who loved his five-year-old son very much, was away on business, and bandits came, burned down his whole village, and took his son away. When the man returned, he saw the ruins and panicked. He took the charred corpse of an infant to be his own child, and he began to pull his hair and beat his chest, crying uncontrollably. He organized a cremation ceremony, collected the ashes, and put them in a very beautiful velvet pouch. Working, sleeping, or eating, he always carried the bag of ashes with him. One day his real son escaped from the robbers and found his way home. He arrived at his father’s new cottage at midnight, and knocked at the door. You can imagine, at that time, the young father was still carrying the bag of ashes and crying. He asked, “Who is there?” And the child answered, “It’s me, Papa. Open the door, it’s your son.”
In his agitated state of mind the father thought that some mischievous boy was making fun of him, and he shouted at the child to go away, and continued to cry. The boy knocked again and again, but the father refused to let him in. Some time passed, and finally the child left. From that time on, father and son never saw one another.
You see, the Buddha said, “Sometimes you take something to be the truth. If you cling to it so much, when the truth comes in person and knocks on your door, you will not open it.”
Jesus said, “Those who welcome you also welcome me, and those who welcome me welcome the One who sent me.” But what does it mean to welcome Jesus. Perhaps we carry with us a velvet bag of ashes. Valuable yes, but they are the ashes of a childish love for Jesus. Those carefully held notions about who Jesus is will fail us if we cling so tightly that our knowledge and love cannot mature in age and grace. Remember what St. Paul says: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I matured, I put away childish things.
In order to welcome Jesus, we just might have to lay aside our bag of ashes in order to move beyond our carefully held notions about who Jesus is. Our storyteller today (Matthew) has Jesus giving his disciples some instructions about how they are to represent him. He doesn’t baptize them first. He doesn’t have them memorize a creed. He doesn’t give them a vet’s manual so they can identify sheep from goats. He certainly doesn’t ask them about their age, culture, social circles, and gender preferences or why he should hire them. He doesn’t even give them the assurance of salvation. In fact he tells them it’s not about them at all. He suggests they have to have a right attitude. As important as family is, they need to understand that what Jesus represents is more important. What he represents is even more important than life itself. He tells them their task is to represent him and in doing so they represent the ONE who sent Him.
The whispered questions begin: “Huh? What do you mean? How do we that? Do we wear special clothes? Do we need a clerical collar? Should we keep the Torah always within reach so we can quote it chapter and verse?” Can’t you see Jesus shaking his head with a bemused smile? “No, just welcome people into your lives. Welcome everyone, but especially welcome those no one else does. Don’t look so shocked. Even if all you do is give them is a cup of water, you will find that most gratifying.” “Is that all??!” they ask.
“That’s it. Be hospitable and everything else will follow.” Why did Jesus make hospitality the basis for his ministry? Perhaps, because it is essential to building relationships. It is the first step to overcoming fear, finding understanding, and giving respect. Ultimately it is the foundation of bringing about a peaceful world. It is the source of harmony.
Jesus lived to change the world and change it, he did – one person at a time. To this day Christ lives in. with and through us to change the world one person at a time. Each act of kindness, each word of welcome, each act of hospitality binds us together in love and moves the universe that much closer to peace. Not the fragile peace that the world gives; but the peace of God, that transcends selfishness, greed, hostility, prejudice, hatred and even war. Peace, which can begin with something as simple as a glass of water, a welcome, an act of hospitality. If you doubt this, I challenge you to think of a time when you were shown unexpected hospitality that at least improved your day and may even have changed your life.
Hospitality it turns out is at the heart of our faith. A Christian, a Benedictine, is simply someone who is hospitable. The truth is, whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of the world’s poor ones, also welcomes Christ, and those who welcome Christ welcome the One who sent Christ. So it shall be among us who promise to “commit ourselves and our resources to respond with the compassion of Christ to the physical, spiritual, social and emotional hungers of the people of God.”