It’s a very short Gospel reading that we’ve just heard isn’t it, and its import is perhaps summed up very succinctly. Jesus said to the disciples – Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
My wife Sandra and I are planning to visit friends in the Czech Republic in September and to walk some sections of the way of St James there. Sandra worked in what was initially Czechoslovakia shortly after the Velvet Revolution and has maintained connections there ever since. One of the things that always very striking when visiting is Czech hospitality which can be almost overwhelming. Different areas of the world vary in terms of their hospitality customs of course. Sometimes these customs have been shaped by religious convictions. The sentiment expressed in the Gospel is certainly a very beautiful one isn’t it. That in our welcoming of others we welcome Christ.
Our Gospel readings have been taken from Matthew chapter 10 now for some weeks and I have to admit that I’ve fallen into the trap that the lectionary unintentionally sets for us of not really paying attention to the broader narrative from which our readings are taken each week. At the begin of chapter 10 Jesus summoned the disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. Our Gospel readings over the past weeks have been taken from Jesus’ teaching to the disciples at that time.
There was something about today’s teaching about whoever welcomes you welcomes me that connected me back to lines much earlier in the passage. Jesus said “you received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food”. It occurred to me that these passages are connected and concern how we interact and are received by others. They point to hospitality, that we should receive others as Christ, that we give generously and also that we allow ourselves to be dependent on the generous response of others.
In May, Sandra I walked sections of the St Frances way in Umbria, anyone would think we’re always on holiday! I mention it because St Francis provides us with a clear example of the implications of the teachings in Matthew chapter 10. His life was reorientated fundamentally by what he took to be a call to poverty and he became a blessing to those who received him and indeed to animals, birds and all God’s creation. By the way there’s a free exhibition at the National Gallery at the moment about St Francis in art which is well worth a visit.
During our stay in Assisi, we attended a Eucharist at what is known as the shrine of the renunciation. It’s where Frances is believed to have been summoned by his father to return his wealth in front of the local Bishop. In response Frances stripped naked and the bishop threw his cloak over him. It was a symbolically powerful act. Frances’ nakedness might remind us of Eden and of our original nakedness. It also reminds of Christ, stripped and crucified. Whilst family is highly valued in the faith, indeed in the ten commandments, we see here also something of the call to a wider family. Francis says to his father “until now I have called you father on earth but now I can say without reservation, Our Father who art in heaven”. There is a sense also of the fatherhood of the bishop in the protection he offers and that of mother church. Frances comes to see his brothers and sisters in the whole of creation and this found particular expression much later in his life in his Canticle of Creation. The return of even his clothes to his father speaks also of the giving of ourselves to God and to one another reflecting that teaching that we heard last week about losing our lives in order to find them in God.
In our welcoming of others, in our generosity and in our willingness to enter into relationship and to accept the vulnerability that comes with being open to others; we see the nature of fellowship and communion and we can catch a glimpse perhaps of how profoundly those forces could transform our world, the fortunes of those in need and even God’s creation.
I’ll close with that Canticle of Creation from St Francis. It is a hymn of praise to God and his creation that speaks profoundly of relationship, of God’s hospitality and the destiny to which he welcomes us.
O Most High, all-powerful, good Lord God,
to you belong praise, glory,
honour and all blessing.
Be praised, my Lord, for all your creation
and especially for our Brother Sun,
who brings us the day and the light;
he is strong and shines magnificently.
O Lord, we think of you when we look at him.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon,
and for the stars
which you have set shining and lovely
in the heavens.
Be praised, my Lord,
for our Brothers Wind and Air
and every kind of weather
by which you, Lord,
uphold life in all your creatures.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water,
who is very useful to us,
and humble and precious and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom you give us light in the darkness:
he is bright and lively and strong.
Be praised, my Lord,
for Sister Earth, our Mother,
who nourishes us and sustains us,
fruits and vegetables of many kinds
and flowers of many colours.
Be praised, my Lord,
for those who forgive for love of you;
and for those
who bear sickness and weakness
in peace and patience
– you will grant them a crown.
Be praised, my Lord, for our Sister Death,
whom we must all face.
I praise and bless you, Lord,
and I give thanks to you,
and I will serve you in all humility.