In our upper middle class, suburban, mainline congregation, we’re working on hospitality. When I came as senior pastor 10 years ago, the congregation had identified hospitality as an area where they needed growth.
Hospitality to those who are not like us or are not part of our tribe is particularly important in our denomination that historically has descended from the various ethnicities of Europe: Gemany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland. (Have I left anyone out?) These days most unchurched folk have no idea what it means to be a Lutheran, but they know if they feel welcome when they step in our doors.
We’ve had additional opportunity to practice hospitality because refugees from around the world – a large number of them from Burundi in Western Africa – have been resettled almost literally in our back yard.
So, today as I was reading Matthew 3, I was caught up short when the gospel writer reports that Pharisees and Sadducees were coming out to the wilderness to be baptized by John. His response was anything but welcoming, calling them a brood of vipers and castigating them for merely putting on the show of repentance. How’s that for hospitality?
So, what’s going on? Was there something in their behavior that is not reported but was offensive to John? Did these unfortunate few become representative of what John saw as a whose system of corrupt religious leadership? Was that the kind of thing he said to everyone?
I don’t know. But I know it sounds harsh and unfair to my ears so distant from the scene.
And it makes me a little uncomfortable. Jesus certainly showed a preference for the poor and the rejected, the ones who had no claim to Jesus’ time, his ear, or his mercy on the basis of who they were, what they had accomplished, or what status they had. At the same time, he reserved his harshest criticism for the religious leaders and the whole institutional and structural system.
And then I reflect that I am a religious leader who gets a paycheck twice a month from the institutional church and live and move and have my being within the structural system of the church.
I wonder what John would have to say to me?