Scripture: Matthew 10:40-42
In June of 2005, U.S. Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell & SEAL Team 10 were assigned to a mission to kill or capture Ahmad Shah, a high-ranking Taliban leader responsible for killings in eastern Afghanistan & the Hindu-Kush mountains.
Local shepherds stumbled upon the team & ended up
betraying the SEALS to local Taliban militia, & a horrific gun-battle ensued. Marcus was the only SEAL survivor. Gravely wounded, he managed to walk & crawl 7 miles to evade capture. He was miraculously given shelter by an Afghan tribe who, at the risk of their own lives, alerted the Americans of his presence, & American forces finally rescued him 6 days after the gun battle.
The Afghan man who gave shelter to Marcus is Mohammad Gulab. Mohammad lives by the “Pashtunwali” code of honor which promotes self-respect, independence, justice, hospitality, love, forgiveness, & tolerance toward all, especially to strangers or guests.
Part of the Pashtunwali code is the concept of “Nanawatai” meaning forgiveness or asylum. Nanawatai allows a person to seek refuge in the house of another, seeking asylum against his enemies. The host is honor-bound to offer that protection, even at the cost of his own family or fortune.
When Marcus found himself in enemy territory & saved by the beautiful Pashtunwali honor code, Mohamed prepared a table, a shelter for Marcus that literally saved his life. Mohamed was not only threatened during the time Marcus was sheltered in his home but continued to face persecution afterward. The Taliban had targeted the whole village for being traitors.
Marcus and Mohamed have become dear friends, & Mohammed has since immigrated to the USA with his family because the persecution was so strong from the Taliban, a consequence for providing shelter to a complete & total stranger who found himself in enemy territory.
In the final 3 verses of Matthew 10, we hear from Jesus about the reward for those who receive anyone representing him as emissaries of God’s global mission. The theology of mission underlying Matthew’s gospel is based on the principle of “imitatio Christi,” or imitating Christ, which is far more than just imitation. In the Hebrew tradition, the word is “shelihim,” in the Greek it is “apostolos,” meaning the one who is sent represents the full presence of the one who sends.
Matthew 10 is known by scholars as “the missionary discourse” in which Jesus sends the 12 disciples to represent his presence entirely, as he was sent by God the Father. If this sending passage seems unfamiliar or demanding, perhaps it is time to reexamine what we understand of Christian living, what we know to be our calling as Jesus’ disciples in this world. It is a call to witness that warns of persecution, poverty & possibly martyrdom. Matthew 10 is a vision of the essence of Christian life. According to M Eugene Boring’s commentary, it is: “confession of [God’s act in] Jesus, living toward the [end times] with a concern for mission in this world, letting go of both material possessions & fear of what others might think about us or do to us, placing of loyalty to the God revealed in Christ above all other loyalties, even the deepest ones of home & family, & trust in God & God’s future.”
For Matthew, this was not a call to the 12 disciples alone: this was a call to all disciples of Jesus. A call to the deeply faithful representation of God’s heart of hospitality found in Jesus.
And then there are those final 3 verses, verses that we overhear as readers as exhortation & promise directly from Jesus to those who welcome his representatives, his missionaries. What does it mean? If we welcome Jesus’ ambassadors, we will share in their reward? What kind of reward? It does not seem like the requirement has saintly stakes. A simple act of hospitable welcome, a cup of cold water, can mean full inclusion in the reward Jesus offers.
At the very heart of God’s mission is this startling reality: welcoming the other, the stranger, the outsider, the foreigner, even the bedraggled traveling missionary is enough, in God’s eyes, to be rewarded. The reward is centered in the deep hospitality found in God’s welcome of us. We were first welcomed & offering welcome to others is the reward of being found in the sacred loop of God’s very own heart: a heart of hospitality, a heart of welcome.
Acts of hospitality are always possible. Cups of cool water, shared meals, clothing, shelter, & a listening ear. When we offer hospitality, we welcome the unknown. We invite the new, the different, the possibilities of fresh perspective & vulnerable sharing.
Matthew 10 is Jesus’ high calling & sending of the 12 disciples (& therefore all willing followers) into God’s mission. It is demanding, it is potentially dangerous, & it is stark. What if Christians took to heart this call to discipleship, & the reward for hospitality as seriously as Mohamed Gulab did when he welcomed Marcus Luttrell into his home? What if we bound ourselves to God’s hospitable welcome of us, like Mohamed did to his tribal understanding of the Pashtunwali code, especially in the case of strangers & guests. What if, like Mohamed, we were prepared to offer nanawatai or sanctuary to more than just Jesus’ emissaries, but even to our enemies? Or to those who simply look different from us, those whose skin tones are much darker?
Friends, we have been afforded a great opportunity to bring God’s kingdom upon this earth. I grew up in the 60s, & I remember watching the news reports of the civil rights marches & the murders of JFK, RFK, & MLK, Jr. I thought I was too young to march in the 60s. I tried to convince myself that I am too old to march today. But the truth is, I am not. None of us are. We have an opportunity to bring real change, lasting change, to our nation & our world. I plan to do everything I can in my corner of the world, & I hope & pray you will join me. We cannot do everything that needs to be done, but we can do something!
Will the world know we are Christians by our love & hospitality, or by our short-sighted & selfish boundaries?
What does the welcome mat in front of our church or your home represent? Does it reflect to the world that you are an ambassador of the full presence of God in Jesus? Or does it subliminally indicate ‘stranger danger’ to the outsider unfamiliar with the Jesus you say you follow? Do outsiders shake the dust from their shoes when leaving our place of worship or your residence?
Let us welcome Jesus & the One who sent him by opening our lives in generosity & hospitality to all of those who cross our paths: whether friend or foe. By our hospitality we will be known as Christians. By our acts of hospitality, we will be included in the very great reward of God’s own welcome of us who were once – but are no longer – strangers to love.
Let us pray. What does taking up our crosses look like in the world? How does loving God more than our friends & family work? Let us find ways to authentically find our lives – risking all we have, learning how to love radically, & walking in the steps of Jesus. As we pour out our self-interests, let us drink the faithful love of God. Let us take in salvation & abiding grace. Amen.