Sunday, July 17, 2016

Benedict Option, part V: hospitality

American Conservative, Rod Dreher, “The Benedict Option”     
Genesis 18:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 9:9-13                                              

“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space (not necessarily “safe” space!) where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.  Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.”  Henri J.M. Nouwen, “Reaching Out: the three movements of the spiritual life”

The Lord and His Word are perfectly clear what the mandate is for helping those in need.  Yet in spite of what is clearly written in the Scriptures, too many Christians and churches continue to remain apathetic, passive, and even aggressively hostile toward those who are not like us or who disagree with us because we feel threatened.  In other words, we are not living by faith; we have instead submitted to our deepest and darkest fears.  And make no mistake; I am right there with you, struggling every single day with this particular ‘demon’.  The key, however, is to continue to struggle rather than to ever submit.

There are legitimate questions as to how a 4th-century monastic (St. Benedict) could possibly be relevant to the 21st-century Church.  As I have shared, however, the only reason why such practices seem so “radical” to us now is that we have become more in tune with the dominant culture than with The Lord.  The fact that our lives – and the collective life of the Church – are almost solely devoted to “personal” comfort or satisfaction, “personal” safety, “personal” security, “personal” wealth, “personal” demands, or even a “personal” Savior is a pretty fair indicator that we have lost our way as the Body of Christ.

This may sound harsh, but who can we be honest with if we are not first willing to be honest with ourselves about what really matters … to The Lord rather than what matters only to ourselves?  “What matters at this stage is forming the kind of community within which civility and [morality] can be sustained and even thrive through the new Dark Age which is already upon us.  If the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last Dark Age (as the Empire itself crumbled around them), we are not without hope.  Unlike the Middle Ages, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have been governing us for quite some time.  It is our lack of consciousness of this fact that constitutes part of our predicament.”  Alasdair MacIntyre, “After Virtue”

We have explored the steps of the Benedict Option, beginning with an established “order” for the community, followed by the “prayer and work” necessary to sustain that order, “stability” in learning to stay put and not worship ourselves by seeking that which was probably never lost and thus will never be found, and then the importance of a genuine sense and purpose of “community”, when we finally admit no “one” of us can always get it right, and no “one” of us, armed or not, can keep the wolves at bay; when we finally admit we need each other because we are created for one another. 

Now we must examine how all this leads us to our next step: regaining a genuine and heartfelt sense of “hospitality”, the kind of hospitality that allows anyone to enter and makes clear to them they are welcome in this “free space in which change can take place”; but with the caveat of the Benedictine Rule: as long as they respect the established order of the community.   

The case of Abraham is an interesting read (Genesis 18:1-8) because I wonder if we have assumed too much.  The text reads, “The Lord appeared to Abraham”, but it does not say, “Abraham saw The Lord approaching”.  We are told “Abraham looked up and saw three men standing near him.”  Not ‘two men with The Lord’.  What this could suggest is that the reader is being told The Lord showed up, but it only seems to occur to Abraham later. 

The distinction is important to us in understanding Abraham had already proved himself to The Lord.  He had followed The Lord’s direction and had gone where The Lord had sent him without question.  In chapter 17 The Lord, due to Abraham’s faithfulness, had declared him “Abraham”, the father of nations.  Abraham had done enough to this point to show The Lord he could be trusted, although we do also know the test with Isaac is still yet to come. 

The point is we do not give enough credit to Abraham who is consciously aware of his status in The Lord.  He is The Lord’s man; and though he surely knows it, he does not see his standing as a matter of personal privilege, but one of duty and honor.  If we can accept Abraham’s humility, we can see a man who is faithfully aware of his duty to anyone seeking rest and respite from their travels. 

The question remains, however, whether we are willing to receive strangers “as angels” (Hebrews 13:2), messengers who come to us directly from the very Presence of The Almighty.  Those who not only bear Divine Witness but who also report directly to The Throne of Judgment. 

For, you see, we must not receive strangers “just in case” The Lord or His messengers may be among them: we must learn to receive and appreciate the very Image in which we are all created and assume The Lord is as with them as with us.  As Jesus teaches us, “What you do – or do not do – for the least of these (those we would not normally welcome), you do for Me” (Matthew 25:40,45).

So it is not a matter of how we might treat The Lord if and when He shows up; it is about how we are currently treating The Lord in how we treat one another, especially strangers.  As it is written in the Letter to the Galatians, “You have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’.  But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another” (5:13-15 NKJV).

So we must understand our duty in our liberty to embrace the Present Reality in which Jesus assured His Church, “I am with you always”.   This means that even as Jesus will one day return to “judge the living and the dead”, He is nevertheless with us even today – and probably in the most unlikely form, not the kind of form we might prefer.  So it is not a matter of how we will treat Jesus when He returns; for it is written that “every knee shall bow”.  It is rather a question of how we currently treat The Lord as we deal with those we would not normally deal with or would avoid dealing with at all cost.

The Lord has entrusted to us a “free space” (though not a “safe” one) in which change – that is, transformation of the human soul – can take place.  It is our liberty, our privilege, our freedom, our duty, our honor to be the sort of “change” we expect and hope for.  Not because society desperately needs it (though they do!), but because our Lord, our God, our Savior, our Shepherd will accept no less.

“Behold, here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Revelation 3:20   

As we pray, come on in, Lord Jesus.  And the sooner, the better!  Amen.

No comments: