No Secret in Hospitality

Thoughts on 2nd Sunday in Lent,  March 8, 2020

by Rev. Jim Ryan,  jimryan6885@gmail.com

The final line of today’s Gospel is the directive of Jesus to Peter, James, and John who just experienced the Transfiguration of their new teacher.  Jesus said, “Do not tell anyone of the vision until the day of resurrection.”  This line became the basis, well over 100 years ago, of the teaching on Messianic Secret.  Wilhelm Wrede and Albert Schweitzer were 2 principle proponents of this view that swept up biblical scholars and preachers in their investigations and presentations of who is Jesus.  Well, the who part of this equation under the banner of Messianic Secret became the notion that the glory and power of Jesus Transfigured needed to be kept a secret until the glory and power of Jesus Resurrected replaced it.  In this view Christianity is about going from glory to glory.  Because this view was all about glory and hardly not at all about service the theory has pretty much lost sense due to a failure to make clear what Jesus intended to teach in the first place.

What supported this theory in 1902 were the ideas that tried to explain why Jesus would want to tamp down the glory.  One idea held that Jesus did not want to become a celebrity such that people would not hear his message because they only wanted to see those healing tricks of his.  Another idea was that he didn’t want the “powers that be” coming after him before he had time enough to teach his Message.  The problem with these ideas is that they presume to know the unknown, as in neither we nor Jesus can opine on what others would do if they had the vision of Transfiguration to mix in with the Message.  That would be presuming too much on the Revelation – too heavy on this vision of Glory to Glory and all those Powers that prop it up.

For my money, I would rather investigate the intention of Jesus than speculate on the intentions of all those others.  So, I ask, if Jesus’ intention in Transfiguration was not about glory and power then just what was his intention?  I think we get a glimmer of an answer from a later episode in the Gospels.

Remember when James and John asked Jesus to sit at either side of him when he came into glory?  That request is in both Gospels of Mark (chapter 10) and Matthew (chapter 20).  Apparently, they kept in mind one interpretation of their experience of Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor.  Jesus’ response to them is, “Can you drink of the cup I will drink or be baptized in the same bath of pain as I?”  Instead of glory Jesus informs the brothers that his intention when he earlier advised silence was that Incarnation was about service and hospitality not visions of glory or thrones of power.

This tidbit of Revelation was an invitation to do as Jesus did – reach out to the stranger, honor the guest.  This is the Revelation we must learn on the way to Easter – to live as Jesus lived, to die as Jesus died, to rise to New Life as Jesus rose.

This brings to mind today’s first Reading from Genesis.  This story of Abraham and Sarah is of their beginning in faith, in their old age, and where it would take them.  It is the tradition of hospitality they started later in their journey by welcoming 3 guests who, in turn, acknowledged this welcome treatment by announcing that Sarah, the very old woman, would become pregnant and give birth.  Thus the picture on the front of today’s Order of Service.  It shows Abraham bowing in welcome to the guests and Sarah sitting behind the tent flap – the same tent flap, we’re told in Genesis 18:12, behind which Sarah laughed when she heard that she was to give birth.

This tradition of hospitality is, I believe, what Jesus intended when he instructed the disciples to keep quiet.  Because while they had a secret, better than that they had acts of kindness to perform and sufferings to endure.  We, like them, must learn to live as Jesus did to do acts of hospitality and to receive them as well.

This week I started a new part-time job of inserting ads into the weekly shopper.  It is payback for all those times I removed the shopper from the mailbox and deposited it immediately in the recycle bin.  Now admittedly, there’s not a lot of skill required for this job.  It reminds me of the Trappist monk who told me that his job for 15 years was packing fruitcakes.  He said, “It’s a perfect job for a monk because after 45 seconds of training a person pretty mush knows all there is to do the job of packing fruitcakes.  And that allows the mind to wander into other realms.  Well, after 30 seconds of training inserting ads into shoppers is pretty much like packing fruitcake.

I’ve had a wonderful time this week preparing this homily while stuffing the Hi-Liter shopper.  I have also been a recipient of acts of hospitality by my new co-workers.  I know this type of work floor, having spent many years employing folks to do repetitive motion tasks.  There are jobs that need to get done and the workers help each other to get them done.  To live as Jesus lived is to be grateful for hospitality received.

To die as Jesus died is also part of this lesson of Incarnation – divinity in human flesh.  The theologians call this kind of dying – kenosis – that is, self-giving.  In a very unexpected kind of way such self-giving occurred in Northern Ireland at the time of reconciliation known as the Good Friday Accords.  You may not recognize the names of John Hume and David Trimble.  It’s more likely you recognize the names, Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley.  To get peace in Ireland after so much killing, torture, bombing and overall mayhem John Hume, the leader of the Catholic political party, and David Trimble, the leader of the Protestant political party gave of themselves and made it possible for Adams and Paisley to become the faces of the agreement.  This political act became a dying in its own way, yes a kenosis, to let others get publicity and recognition for the sake of peace in the land.  To die as Jesus died.

To rise as Jesus rose.  Now perhaps we’re ready to dispose of visions of glory and embrace the way of hospitality.  We, too, learn that it is the little things, the daily acts of kindness, the letting go of resentments for peace to come.  These things make Resurrection happen.  To rise as Jesus rose.

One last thing about this revelation of hospitality.  Once we Christians put away notions of glory and power, notions of always being right, it is then we realize we truly are among the heirs of Abraham and Sarah.  The 3 traditions that live in the old couple’s wake have received the gift of value which is reaching out to the stranger.

Islam is a religion of hospitality.  While it has been lately hijacked by murderers, torturers, and bombmakers its holy book is full of teachings from the Prophet such as, “Whoever believes in God and the Last Day, let that person honor their neighbor.”

In the Hebrew Bible there are over 24 examples of the teaching, “Love the stranger,” and only 2 examples of the teaching, “Love the neighbor.”

And in Christian life we are directed to keep quiet and let our actions speak.  In this we live as Jesus lived, we die as Jesus died, and we rise as Jesus rises.

from a Poem by Ernesto Cardenal, d.3/1/2020

God/Love is not an unmoved mover

but rather change and evolution

the future that calls us

and the resurrection our future

all together in the center of the cosmos

there are many rooms there said Jesus

the Only planet in the solar system

with lights in the night

And we are God’s dream

God dreams of us

wants us in a different world

without the sins of inequality

the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer

where no one rules over anyone

 

The stars are not above

They are atoms like us

born of stardust

and from this same dust are they

Millions of conscious stars

their sacrifices shining all night long

the explosion of supernovas

teaching us how to die

 

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