Whenever families get together they often like to rehash old stories, and one of the legends that has made its way permanently into my family folklore concerns my Aunt Dorothy’s meat loaf. One summer many years ago, when my son Ian was about 8, our family was traveling down the 401 on our way to Montreal and as was our family custom, we had stopped in unannounced at Aunt Dorothy’s in Belleville to simply say hello and stretch our legs a bit – but on this occasion she had generously offered us dinner, and we had gladly accepted. Now, Aunt Dorothy was known for many wonderful qualities, but skill in the kitchen wasn’t one of them, and so, perhaps not unexpectedly, the concoction that landed on the table under the guise of meat loaf was unlike anything I had ever experienced. As I recall, we cautiously pushed it around on our plates, all the while making polite, appreciative noises as we forced small bits of it down….all except Ian, of course. At the tender age of 8 he was quite perturbed by this turn of events, and after the first inedible morsel touched his lips, followed by some gagging noises, his mind was made up: no more. To this day, 24 years later, if I simply say the words “Aunt Dorothy’s meat loaf” to him, I’ll get a swift and unmistakable reaction of disgust. It’s clearly not one of his greatest childhood memories, and of course I mention it every so often just to enjoy the reaction it generates!
A big part of today’s gospel lesson confronts that age old dilemma – not so much how to be a good host, but how to be a good guest. And clearly, in the Jesus Guide to Daily Etiquette, the guest has some responsibility in that equation. Now, we might never dream of going up to the door of the home of someone we don’t know to ask for hospitality – for food and lodging – but it seems from the gospel lesson that it may have been commonly done in Jesus’ day, and possibly in many cultures still is. Knowing he was sending them out to be dependent on the kindness of strangers, though, Jesus had some specific and valuable advice for the seventy. First, don’t be too fussy. Don’t put on airs or ask for special treatment; stay for a while if they’ll have you; eat what’s offered without question or objection; and above all, remember why you’re there: to bring peace to that house; to bring the kingdom near; to bring a deliberate blessing of shalom: to be a living, embodied prayer that justice and peace, health and healing, joy and goodness would transform that household into a little living patch of heaven on earth. This is the news that Jesus sent the seventy out with – that the Kingdom of Heaven was coming near – and so it was important, as travelers and as guests that they conveyed to everyone they came into contact with that they were living witnesses to that promise, to that expectation and to that hope.
More than any other gospel, Luke focuses on hospitality; read through this gospel and Jesus is always eating with someone, or sending his disciples out to do the same. To our 21st century North American sensibilities they sound like a bunch of freeloaders, which is what we might suspect of them in this day and age, were we to meet up with them on the street, or if they came knocking at our door. But at the heart of the reciprocal practice of hospitality, I think they were getting across the idea that the household of God, into which everyone is invited, is like a finely tuned relationship between host and guest … where there is warmth and peace and protection; a place where the first are last and the last first; where the guest is honoured by the host, and the host by the guest.
When we talk in this day and age about taking the Gospel into the world in new and unusual ways, clearly we’re not talking about hitting the road barefoot with no wallet, and knocking on doors asking for a free lunch and a few nights’ accommodation. That’s just not our cultural reality, and I rather doubt that we’d get much positive response from that kind of tactic. But if we can see this gospel instead as a bit of a pep talk on taking risks, staying positive, being flexible, and being respectful wherever and whenever we’re given the opportunity, then it still has something important to say to us. While on one hand we’re not in the business of force-feeding Jesus to anyone, still, in our walk of faith we will often find ourselves in situations where people offer us something a little more difficult to swallow than meat loaf – perhaps in the form of an open challenge to the beliefs we hold dear. I think it’s at times like those that we need to remember that as Christians and disciples we’re always a guest in someone else’s reality, but even so, we still have the chance to embody the kingdom in a respectful, thoughtful, gentle, and grateful way.
And so, Shalom. Peace be to this house and community of God.
The Venerable Nancy Adams
Luke 10:1-11, 14-16