The way of Jesus, when properly understood is dangerous, disappointing, and even disturbing.
Many in our country is reeling from the attack at the Emmanuel AME Church in South Carolina. John Stewart’s words ring true in the ears of many: this a terrorist attack, and the result of America’s lackadaisical approach to systemic problems of gun violence and racism.
We want something to fix.
“Take down that Confederate flag!”
“Pass stricter gun laws!”
Or even… “Pastors should carry guns.”
These are real problems, that as John Stewart, and even President Obama have said that we will probably continue to ignore. But even if we did solve those problems, our efforts would have very little power compared to dangerous, disappointing and disturbing hospitality of the Emmanuel Wednesday Night Bible Study.
The Way of Jesus is Dangerous
You’ve probably seen the clip, where alleged shooter Dylann Roof stares blankly while friends of the victims express their grief. The entire scene is heart wrenching, but nothing more than the words of one woman, who speaks of hospitality:
“…as we say in Bible Study, ‘we enjoyed you.’”
The way of Jesus is dangerous because it begins with hospitality. Hospitality, by definition, requires making space for someone or something different.
What is different is unknown. What is unknown could be dangerous.
When the Priest and the Levite passed the beaten man on the road to Jerusalem, they weren’t just avoiding inconvenience, they were avoiding danger. When Ananias opened his home to the angry and zealous Saul of Tarsus, he was taking his life into his hands. When Jewish Christians invited Gentiles into their churches, they were opening doors to the unknown ways, and unknown intentions of a different race.
Paul (the once murderous Saul) describes The Incarnation this way:
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
We often want to skip straight to the cross. But to get to the cross, Jesus first had to empty himself. Hospitality is making space for others. For the God of the Universe, it is a personal, dangerous and costly act.
From Hospitality to Forgiveness
The words “we enjoyed you” continue to ring in my ears. They immediately cause that dry heave of tears that never come. But when people look at the men and women of Emmanuel saying “I forgive you,” it doesn’t always bring the same reaction.
The words “I forgive you” often lose their power. We throw them haphazardly at little slights. But to find something to enjoy about someone who hates and has hurt you? It seems unnecessary, unrealistic, or shameful.
Paul describes incarnation as a sort of hospitality. Incarnation is Jesus’ modus operandi. But reconciliation is Jesus purpose.
When we act hospitable, we invite others into our space. When we forgive, we give up what we deserve.
“Every fiber of my being is hurting,” said one of the victim’s friends, “but I forgive you.”
The pain, anger and anguish of having a friend taken away is something that a victim owns. Forgiveness is voluntarily giving that away.
Hospitality says that no space belongs to us alone. Forgiveness says that no feelings, no matter how painful, belong to us either.
Forgiveness alonne should be unreasonable or impossible. That is, unless you’ve practiced hospitality.
Hospitality, when practiced, is the art of enjoying others. You cannot open your home selfishly. You cannot put down your phone, close your laptop and talk to another person unselfishly.
You cannot learn another’s language, culture or pain out of selfishness.
You cannot listen to someone else’s story if you are waiting to tell your own.
You cannot take pleasure in a foreign cuisine, learn from a new book or consider another’s opinion while comparing it to what you already like.
Enjoying others comes with no prerequisites and no preferences. Not even your comfort. Not even your safety. Jesus emptied himself. He took the form of a slave, coming in human likeness.
Forgiveness is Teachable
When great acts of forgiveness take place, the outside world stares slack-jawed. We treat Elizabeth Elliot like a saint for returning to those who killed her husband. We look at the stories of truth and reconciliation in South Africa and Rwanda as unimaginable, fairy tales of a far off land. We hear of Amish families embracing the family of the man who killed their children, and we are quick to write it off as another odd Amish trait.
These are extraordinary stories.
But the shouldn’t be. At least, not for followers of Jesus. He took the form of a slave, coming in human likeness. Before he forgave people, he enjoyed them.
But teaching forgiveness must be done at an angle. You can’t address it directly. You can’t say to a grieving woman or man “just forgive them.” You cultivate forgiveness by practicing hospitality.
How does your church community train for hospitality?