Making Present the Kingdom of God (Hospitality I)
Hospitality is the virtue that allows us to break through the narrowness of our own
fears and to open our houses to the stranger… Hospitality makes anxious disciples
into powerful witnesses. 
We sang a song in Sunday School growing up, about a man whom Jesus confronted with love:
Zacchaeus was a wee, little man,
And a wee, little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree,
For the Lord he wanted to see
And as the Savior came that way,
He looked up in the tree,
And he said, "Zacchaeus, you come down from there,"
For I'm going to your house today
For I'm going to your house today
It’s a cute song, but Zacchaeus’s contemporaries probably would not have found it so. Zacchaeus was a tax collector, meaning that in the eyes of his contemporaries—the orthodox of Israel—Zacchaeus was a traitor, a cur, a son of a faithless dog.“His mother was a hamster, and his father smelled of elderberries!”Imagine how the French felt about Vichy agents, their countrymen who collaborated and went in cahoots with the Nazis; that’s about how his fellow compatriots would have seen Zacchaeus. So when Jesus encounters Zacchaeus, he subverts social expectations by sayingto Zacchaeus, “Let’s have a meal together. I’m coming to your house today.”Jesus confrontsZacchaeus, but he confronts him by inviting himself over. We may find that rude, but the message in Jesus’ context was clear: I’m accepting you.
This would have been stunning for Zacchaeus. A meal in his culture represented respect, care, even affection. To share hospitality meant acknowledging not only the humanity, but also the worthinessof the person in front of you—in other words, dining with someone was a recognition that they were “in.” Religious Jews did not have meals with Gentiles at all, because it could put their own ritual cleanliness at risk, so having a meal was a big deal. In inviting himself over, Jesus is doing what he always does: accepting and loving before there are signs of repentance or change in behavior. With Jesus, the “I don’t condemn you” always comes beforethe “go and sin no more.”It’s this radical acceptance that transforms Zacchaeus, that gives him a sense of how God sees him. And that gives him hope: the Reign of God comes even for tax collectors and sinners like him. And likeus.
Through his posture of hospitality and welcome, Jesus radically interrupts the strictures of his culture to reveal the heart of God. In doing so, he makes manifest the reign of God which he proclaims. Indeed, this was Jesus’ work: not only to proclaim but also to make presentthe kingdom of God. As N.T. Wright observes, this Kingdom is “God’s sovereign, saving rule coming on earth as in heaven.”The Kingdom is the place where what God wants is done. It’s life manifesting, even in the midst of death. Any time that Jesus healed someone, for example, there was life. His miracles always made manifest the reign of God. No one who saw a formerly-blind man seeing or a formerly-lame man walking would doubt that something divine had happened; they would be pointed to the reality that the heart of God is life itself. But Jesus also made manifest the reign of God in ways that, if more subtle—like sharing a meal—were just as profound. As followers of Jesus, our invitation is to walk in his way and to make manifest the Reign of God with and for others, just as he did.
This is what The Slow Life is all about: unhurriedness and silence and Sabbath create space to hear and be transformed by the whisper of God’s Spirit so that we can fully receive our adoption in God. It is only by this adoption that we are empowered to love others as Jesus does, as ambassadors of his Kingdom. As we become aware of who God is, as we meditate on and experience Him, we will naturally become more like Him, empathy and compassion growing within us. It is through receiving that we are able to give. And, following the principle of Isaiah 58, we can practicereceiving by training ourselves to give, assuming a posture of hospitality. We may not invite ourselves over to someone’s else home (although hey, why not?), but we can practice Jesus’ posture of hospitality whenever we are able. And while the table is often crucial for the practice of hospitality, we’ll find that hospitality is also bigger than a table. It’s about how we are withpeople in a way that makes hope present and palpable, wherever we are. It’s an orientation to life in God by which the Reign of God is made manifest around us.
Ultimately, hospitality is the litmus test of The Slow Life. Do we have time to be withpeople, or are we too far ahead of ourselves and out of the present moment? When we see a neighbor, do we have enough margin to stop and be present with and also forthem? Jesus, grounded in the love of God, was present with those God gave him to love. By his grace, we can learn the same posture.
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Nouwen, Henri. The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. Image Doubleday. New York, NY. 2010. Page 95.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Film, directed by T. Gilliam and T. Jones. National Film Trustee Co. United Kingdom. 1975.
See John 8:1-11. At least, that’s the pattern with those caught in hedonism, like Zacchaeus.
See N.T. Wright on the Book of Acts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHtJ94951Jg&list=PL455179C7B06EBCB8 [May 15, 2017]
Cf. John 14:12.