Benedictines tell a joke that gets at the central tension of Christian hospitality. “Our Rule tells us that we must greet every guest as if the guest were Christ,” a monk said to me once with a wry smile. “But sometimes when the knock comes at the door we say, ‘O Christ, it’s you again?’
After a decade of living in a hospitality house, sharing life with folks who’ve become homeless for one reason or another, I find the monk’s humor both relieving and familiar. We couldn’t keep going around here if we hadn’t learned to laugh a long time ago. But laughter is here, as always, a way to break the tension–to let out the agony that would rip us open if it stayed inside.
I thought of this just this morning as I read a post from one of my favorite young authors, Erin Lane:
I remember hearing a young, male activist once talk about the need to know our neighbors, to go into their homes, to risk our personal safety for the sake of bringing Christ to the world, being Christ to each other. I wondered if he had ever been sexually assaulted, known the panic of walking the dog alone at night or entering a vacant bathroom stall at a rest stop. Another time I had been passed up for an internship because I admitted my fear of strangers on the application; the hiring committee deemed me too “fragile.” I began to wonder if my faith was too weak, too small, too fearful for what the Gospel required: radical hospitality.
Reading this, I prayed that I was not, in fact, the young, male activist who rang out the call for hospitality without mentioning its messiness. I know I could have been.
But I also gave thanks for a place that has taught me–is teaching me all the time–that radical welcome is a gift when we practice it with others in a community that helps us both to name our limits, to acknowledge true gifts, and to care for one another, even when we get it wrong. Even when we get hurt.
These days, William Stafford’s “Easter Morning” sums up best for me the mystery we’re living into:
Maybe someone comes to the door and says,
“Repent,” and you say, “Come on in,” and it’s
Jesus. That’s when all you ever did, or said,
or even thought, suddenly wakes up again and
sings out, “I’m still here,” and you know it’s true.
You just shiver alive and are left standing
there suddenly brought to account: saved.
Except, maybe that someone says, “I’ve got a deal
for you.” And you listen because that’s how
you’re trained––they told you, “Always hear both sides.”
So then the slick voice can sell you anything, even
Hell, which is what you’re getting by listening.
Well, what should you do? I’d say always go to
the door; yes, but keep the screen locked. Then,
while you hold the Bible in one hand, lean forward
and say carefully, “Jesus?”