Misplaced hospitality

Feast Day of Bishop James Theodore Holly

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. – John 4:31-35

At my church one Saturday morning in the moments before a workshop began, I noticed that the presenter had no coffee. Everyone else had gotten themselves something to drink. Maybe she was too busy working on set-up, I thought, to grab herself a cup. I was not the workshop organizer, but still the anxiety nagged me. She had come many miles to be with us; the least we could do was show some hospitality. I grabbed her a cup, forced myself through the people sitting around tables ready to listen, and, inadvertently interrupting her opening comments, offered it to her. She said something I didn’t hear. Smiling uncertainly I continued to offer the coffee. Finally she raised her voice. “I would like to have this area clear so that I can concentrate on my presentation. I’ll have something to drink later. Thank you.”

Slinking back to the serving table with the coffee, I felt horrible. It’s moments like these that make me want to melt away through the floor. I had overstepped my bounds, made a fool of myself. I could have trusted the workshop organizer and the presenter herself to take care of herself.

The disciples in today’s story have a similar experience of misplaced hospitality. They are anxiously trying to press food upon Jesus. I can just hear them saying among themselves, “He should eat something. He’s looking so thin lately.” And then, when he told them he had food they knew nothing of, I can just imagine them saying, “Who did he get something to eat from? Was it enough?” And finally I picture their humiliation when he finally got through to them, when they finally really heard him. The food he is talking about, the important food, is to do the will of the one who sent him; to finish his work.

At the workshop, by God’s grace, I was able to love myself through my shame at my obtuseness. I gave that part of me that always wants people to be taken care of a big mental hug, sat down, and opened my heart to take in what the presenter was sharing with us. I am all right; just a bit over the top sometimes. And I am pretty sure everybody forgave me.

What was important was the material being presented. Our workshop leader was really living into her baptismal call to do the work that gave her joy, on God’s behalf. Her teaching was passionate. She had gathered all kinds of important information, and she shared it in an orderly, clear and thoughtful way. Participating with my fellow parishioners, I had my eyes opened to new understandings, fresh vistas, deep insights. We all got a little closer to God’s dream being manifest on earth that day,

Let us pray that we will always find the grace to set aside all the worries and anxieties of the everyday world to hear what is most important. May we be led by God to do the work God has given us to do and to attend well to our neighbors, who are struggling to do the same.

Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries With others she manages Fresh Expressions website for the Diocese of Colorado -highlighting congregations’ creative ministries.

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