This semester, I began a course on the New Testament at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth. Every Wednesday at 7:45 am, I join students of all life stages and ages to learn about this Jesus of Nazareth and his followers.
What does this have to do with hospitality? And what does hospitality have to do with our Stewardship season? And where does Jesus fit in?
In scripture, we read accounts of Jesus performing miracles, people being ushered back into the community, new life from death, and a host of other profound stories from a traveling rabbi and his disciples. I may feel moved, awed, intrigued, but for many, and I must include myself in this group, any reflection ends there. In seminary, however, professors are urging me to look deeper. Am I missing some of the meaning?
We know that Jesus’ disciples came from various economic backgrounds and that they left everything and followed him. But what enabled Jesus’ ministry? Did it simply just happen? Who paid for food or occasional lodging or bought new sandals when the old ones wore out? We know Jesus didn’t have credit cards or a nest egg. We know he didn’t have a savings account at his local bank branch. And we also know that somehow, someway he and his ministry not only survived but lived in such a way that they could welcome strangers with abundance. There are no stories of Jesus being showered with coins or turning 5 coins into 50. How did God work this out? How did God do it?
In New Testament Hospitality: Partnership with Strangers as Promise and Mission, John Koenig makes a case for the stewardship system that enabled the ministry of Jesus. Koenig argues that it “seems clear that Jesus’ persistent attention to food, drink, and hospitality is intended to convey something important about the reciprocal relationship between God and human beings. Behind Jesus’ imagery is the magnanimous God, who constantly grants far more than humans need or deserve (Matt. 5:43-48)” (Koenig, 29). Humans, in return, respond either with generosity or a closed fist.
This leads to the central paradox that Koenig points out. A “factor that must have drawn people into Jesus’ orbit was the peculiar array of economic reevaluations and transactions practiced by his community… [W]hile Jesus and the Twelve had given up possessions and regular family life, they nevertheless manifested abundance, especially at meals, and invited others to share in it” (Koenig, 34). Koenig argues that the only way he can understand this paradox is that those who benefitted from Jesus’ ministry responded by providing material support (Koenig, 35). Jesus’ ministry was not just for the disciples. It was for everyone. Women could join in on sharing God’s generosity. Tax collectors could join in. Beggars? They could too.
Jesus and the Twelve were not in an isolated vacuum. They, like us, were in intimate community with those around them, partnering with strangers and friends to further the message of Jesus. It was through this community that God provided the financial support Jesus needed. And it was through this interdependence that Jesus and the disciples were enabled to make bold theological claims about God’s provision.
As Koenig points out, “with God there is more than enough food and home, but this truth must be acted out before people can respond to it with faith. Even small deeds of sharing… can open the hearts of guests and hosts alike to God’s abundance” (Koenig, 36). So why do we give? As with the early followers of Christ, we give in trust that God will provide, in response to God’s abundant generosity, and to demonstrate the power of faithful giving in other people’s lives.
Walking the halls of Trinity, I see God’s abundance in action. From the conversations over coffee to the cool air in the vents, God’s generosity is evident everywhere. I see companions in Christ providing for single moms, companions working towards racial equity, companions who pray for us every single day. We are a beautiful tapestry conveying God’s great, wide, and deep love for all. AND we all meet on Sunday mornings, to worship the God that invites us to the Good Life whether we are prosperous or poor, insiders or outcasts, young or old, etc.
Through our generosity (our pledging and our tithing), we, too, are making bold theological claims about who God is and who we are. We are saying to the world that God is a magnanimous God, a God who has provided for us and gives us more than we need. We are saying that this community of Christ’s followers, this church that is the bride of Christ is worth sacrificing for. Even when things are scary and each day brings bad news, the community of God, this beautiful tapestry is important. Like those supporters of Jesus, we are saying that God has been generous with us and we will respond in kind. We are choosing the Good Life.
So, as I go through this week, I’m asking myself: how has God been generous to me? Does my personal generosity reflect that? What does my giving say about God? Let’s choose the Good Life. Let’s choose the generous life.