Interdependence Day

July 3, 2022
Rev. Brent Gundlah

Our daughter Hope has a sensitive stomach, which has provided some interesting moments for our family over the years — the most memorable of which was an international incident.

We were touring the Palacio Real — the Royal Palace — in Madrid when it happened. Right there between the security checkpoint and the entrance, Hope lost her breakfast all over King Juan Carlos’s floor. Maybe eating half a cheesecake at 7AM wasn’t the best idea she’d ever had.

On any other day in any other place this would have been only mildly mortifying. But this was an away game for us — we were strangers in a strange land — and that definitely made it more stressful.

Adding to the degree of difficulty was the fact that the King was in residence in that day — I mean it’s bad enough to vomit on a monarch’s floor, but it’s even worse to do it when he’s home.

What this meant in practical terms was that the place was crawling with extra staff: palace guards, the royal protection detail, the national police. So as we stood there, staring in disbelief at each other and at the mess on the floor, not knowing quite what to do next, the entire security apparatus of Spain came at us from all directions.

Suffice it to say, I was never more glad that Val speaks Spanish. As she talked with all of these these heavily-armed people, my head kept turning between her and them, like I was watching a tennis match, as I tried in vain to follow along. While I could barely understand a word of what they were saying, it was clear that they were engaged in some sort of negotiation.

The officials would say something, and Val would shake her head back and forth saying, “No”.  This went on for a little while, but eventually Val gave in; as she moved her head up and down, and finally said, “Si,” some of the soldiers scurried away and returned a few minutes later with a plate of saltines and a glass of water for Hope; they watched my her intently as she availed herself of their hospitality — probably hoping that she wouldn’t go off again.

I asked Val to explain what had just transpired. She told me that, since the King was in the palace, the Royal Physician was there too; the police offered to go get him so he could tend to Hope. Val politely declined. Next they offered to fetch a wheelchair from the King’s infirmary (and an police officer to push it) so that Hope could take the palace tour in comfort. Val declined once again.

Finally, they offered to get something to soothe Hope’s stomach from His Royal Highness’s kitchen and this time Val agreed; she figured that we weren’t getting out of there until she actually accepted something from them, and some crackers and water seemed reasonable for them to offer and for us to take.

Hope managed to keep it all down and we thanked the staff for their kindness. We walked around the palace for an hour or so before going on our merry way (though security was never far behind) and a further escalation of diplomatic tensions was avoided.

I learned some things that day — among them, travel with kids can be tough and high school Spanish really would have benefitted me. But the single greatest lesson I came away with from this whole experience was this: hospitality can sometimes be difficult to accept.

Jesus understands this too. In today’s story — unique to Luke’s Gospel — he sends seventy messengers, two by two, into the world to preach the good news because even Jesus couldn’t be everywhere at once.

As Jesus moves closer to Jerusalem and the cross, the scope of his mission gets wider, as his time here on earth grows shorter. For a while, Jesus had been the only one preaching and teaching; but in the previous chapter of Luke, Jesus sent out the twelve apostles to do this; now he decides to send seventy — and this number (like so many others in the Bible) has meaning.

Jesus’s message is really starting to make an impact and so he needs more apostles to help share it, but there’s more to it than that. Jesus knew the Hebrew scriptures inside and out and refers to them constantly; the reference here is to Genesis 10, which provides a comprehensive list of all the nations of the world at that time which, you guessed it, totaled seventy.

What we’re supposed to know is that God’s grace is available to everybody everywhere. And it’s no accident that we’re dealing with this text in the middle of Pentecost, the season that focuses on the origins and expansion of the Church.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few,” Jesus tells the seventy as he sends them out to share the gospel. And it’s no wonder that the laborers are so few because what he’s asking them to do is difficult.

Jesus acknowledges that the disciples are heading into an inhospitable world; “I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves,” he says to them. And that sounds nice, doesn’t it? While I’ve got to admire Jesus’s honesty, once again his recruiting pitch ain’t exactly the best I’ve ever heard.

As if this weren’t tough enough, Jesus also tells his messengers to travel light — and I mean very light — on their mission trip; “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals,” he commands. While this might make it easier for them to get around, it also makes them completely reliant on the hospitality of strangers — and this is a difficult position for them to be in.

When they enter a house and say, as Jesus tells them to say, “Peace be to this house,” the only two possible outcomes for them are rejection or acceptance.

If Jesus’s messengers are turned away in one place, they are to wipe the dust of that town from their feet and move along to the next; God will take care of the rest.

In the verses that our Lectionary reading skips over Jesus talks about the woes that will befall any place that rejects his messengers: “I tell you… it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town,” he declares. And this is pretty severe. Like I said earlier, Jesus really knows his Hebrew scriptures, so go have a look at Genesis 19 if you’re curious about how things worked out for Sodom.

But what if the messengers are accepted where they go? Well, this might actually be more difficult for them. If they are rejected, they can simply walk away, but if a household shares in the peace that the disciples extend, Jesus tells them, not once but twice, to “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you…”

In Jewish culture, what you ate and with whom you ate it were really important things, and so this is a provocative command on Jesus’s part. These disciples were ordered to go out into the world with only the gospel to give, and told to accept whatever they were given without worrying about what it was or who gave it to them.

They were entirely reliant upon the hospitality of others for survival; they were completely vulnerable — and vulnerable is an uncomfortable thing to be. But that is exactly what Jesus wants them to be; that is exactly what Jesus wants us to be.

Hospitality is kind of funny thing: it is relatively easy to extend, but not always all that easy to accept. Being confronted with true hospitality forces us to come to terms with just how dependent we really are; it calls us into real relationship with others.

Just to be clear: by hospitality I don’t mean something like inviting a friend over for dinner because that situation assumes a kind of preexisting relationship between equals. It’s a nice thing to do, but it doesn’t involve a whole lot of risk on anyone’s part.

But what about hospitality in a context like church? Generally, we have people here to this house, to our house. But Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples to invite people over to hear the good news, he calls them to go out into the world and share it with people where they are. And he orders his disciples to take nothing with them on their journey because he wants them to understand not only what it means to love their neighbor but also what it means to allow themselves to be loved by their neighbor — whomever or wherever that neighbor might be.

As people called to do the work of Christ’s church in in this day and age we need to meet others in their vulnerability and, at the same time, accept and embrace our own vulnerability. Because while we definitely have much love to offer, there is also much love out there for us to receive, if we are actually willing to receive it.

You see, what ultimately unites all God’s people is our dependence on one another, and our complete and utter dependence upon God. We need each other. And that’s what real discipleship is all about.