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Reflections on the Sunday lectionary readings

Hospitality

Hosea 1:2-10 and Psalm 85  •  Genesis 18:20-32 and Psalm 138  •  Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)  •  Luke 11:1-13

    This Sunday's gospel reading from Luke covers many aspects of prayer in a short 15 verses. It begins with Jesus teaching the Lord's Prayer, possibly the most quoted, most well-known verses in the Bible. It ends with the assurance that those who seek truth will find it. And in the middle is an odd little story, not so well known, about going to a friend in the middle of the night to ask a favor: in this case, for food to serve guests who have just arrived, tired and hungry, from their travels.

    In a harsh desert environment, hospitality towards travelers can mean the difference between life and death. In these settings, cultural mandates requiring hosts to provide food, water, and lodging became deeply embedded community principles. When principles are a part of one's culture and/or faith, they begin as an external rule. Careful adherence can shore up one's sense of self as doing what is right, sometimes bringing a side of praise from others too. At some point, though, one does begin to wonder about these handed-down principles. Part of growing up is a reflective process of looking at one's own family and cultural ideals over time and accepting them – or not – as one's own deeply held values.

    In today's story, it seems that the person asking the friend for help has taken the hospitality principle on as a part of himself. He is unconcerned with pleasing his friend, disturbing him and his family in the middle of the night and shamelessly pleading with him for help. He is quite unpretentious in admitting that he is unprepared. These behaviors suggest a person who is certain that he wants to be a good host, and determined to keep trying, regardless of mistakes that have been made.

    This determination to keep trying can only come from an internal way of being, rather than a devotion to an external cultural principle. Somehow, in the story, the asker had himself already come to the place where his reasoning – both emotional and intellectual – led him to own the principle of hospitality for others. Perhaps he has noticed a tendency to be less hospitable to strangers than friends, and rejected this approach, recognizing his own reactivity and seeing it as less than his best self. Perhaps he has noticed a stingy attitude towards his guests and realized in his mind that all of us need each other's generosity. Whatever the process, hospitality is no longer just something that others have told him is important. It matters to him. At this point, little can stop him from continuing to seek ways of honoring the principle in his life, even if it inconveniences his friend. The ask is clear, and the asker is certain about what he is trying to do. A mature life involves an underlying clarity about what one aiming for. A mature pray-er is unashamed to bring the ask.

For reflection:

Morning: What am I trying to do today? What are my underlying principles? What do I need to ask for?

Evening: Where did I operate out of my principles? When did I fall back on doing what would meet expectations or please others, without reference to what matters to me?

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