On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. "When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, 'Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Imagine you are planning a dinner party for next weekend. Who is on your list of people to invite? Your best couple friends you often double date with, your parents, perhaps a co-worker and their spouse? Maybe, if you're feeling particularly generous, you'll invite someone new at your church that you don't know very well yet.
But what about the person on the street corner you pass on your way to work, or the person holding the sign at the freeway entrance, or someone you see digging through the trash for recyclable bottles? All, generally, people we studiously avoid eye contact with, let alone think of extending an invitation into our home. Yet Jesus points out that these are exactly the sort of folks we should be welcoming with open arms and showering with our hospitality.
Sometimes, churches and church people are good at this. They host daily meals or participate in programs that help shelter people for a week or otherwise extend the grace and love that scripture requires of us. But I've noticed, that often, we don't do it with this idea that we won't be repaid. Sure, we don't expect those who come to pay us in kind with donations, work, or money of any sort. But we do expect their gratitude (and get very annoyed when we don't hear the words "thank you"), we do expect them to conform to our behavioral norms (and get extremely irritated when they don't), we do (in one particular case) want them to stay on the old side of the church and not cross the threshold into what is shiny and new.
When our hospitality is given with conditions, it ceases to be true hospitality of the sort that Jesus asks of us. We must open our hearts, our doors, and our minds knowing that those who enter might be unlike us, might make us uncomfortable, might never pay us back in the way that we want or expect. We must give without expectation, and recognize that each person we encounter is a beloved child of God, and in that, begin to find our common ground, and our blessing.
God who has opened doors for me, help me to open doors for others, even, perhaps especially, for those who make me uncomfortable. Help me to see Jesus in everyone I encounter, and to extend hospitality at all times, for one never knows when we might be entertaining angels unawares. Amen.