What does it mean to offer welcome to others? Today’s gospel reading gives us a good chance to explore the theme of welcome. The word, welcome, appears six times in the three verses that comprise today’s gospel passage. [Jesus said to the twelve:] 40“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
What is to offer genuine welcome? The New Testament Greek word may simply translate as “receive.” To welcome is to receive someone or something.
The English word has a richer sense: to accept gladly, as in a pleasurable, desired guest. Welcome has to do with “one whose coming suits another’s will or wish.” As if to say, “it is good you have come.”
At least in terms of how the word has come to us in English, via other languages, welcome is not just about receiving, but receiving gladly, willingly.
The willing gladness – that’s the rub, that’s the challenge with welcoming.
We can welcome others out of a sense of duty. Churches often seek to welcome others as prospective new members who can help pay the bills. We can offer welcome grudgingly. And on and on.
But to welcome gladly and willingly? Again, that’s the greater challenge.
Also, consider Jesus’ way of welcome. His willing gladness to receive others extended to those persons on the margins of society whom others steadfastly refused to welcome at all, much less with glad and generous hearts. Children, orphans, widows, those ill, those demon possessed. Sinners. Tax collectors. People such as these did not receive a welcome in Jesus’ day. But it was precisely the un-welcome-able whom Jesus sought first to welcome.
So how do we grow in the capacity to receive others – all others, even those we might deem un-receivable – and to do so gladly, willingly?
I think of the wonderful quote from 1 John: “We love because [God] first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) A corollary to this foundational Christian theological principle is this: “We welcome because God in Christ first welcomed us.”
“Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’” (Matthew 10:40)
The sacred welcome flows up and down the line – God the Father, to God the Son, to the first little ones, the disciples, to those who welcomed those first disciples and on through the centuries to us in these latter days.
God’s welcome extends through the millennia – a great outpouring of the Spirit in welcome from God on high to those of us who dwell in the dust of the earth.
Glad and willing welcome is like a “cup of cold water to [us and all of those who are] these little ones,” thirsting in this dry and barren land of ours.
Of course, baptism is the sacramental enactment of God’s welcome to us, and is the wellspring of our capacity to offer glad and willing welcome to all in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I want to leave you with another thought. We usually think of welcome in terms of welcoming other people. But I believe that the theme of welcome extends also to situations and circumstances as well.
We’re in the midst of a global pandemic, along with economic uncertainty and upheaval and financial catastrophe for many, which also coincides with a time during which centuries of racial injustices are being revealed to us in unmistakable ways. These may seem to us to be unwelcome sets of circumstances.
But it may well be that welcome might extend to receiving these crises if not gladly, then willingly, as opportunities to grow in the capacity to welcome those who have been excluded and left behind by these circumstances – namely, those most vulnerable to the virus, those whose lives and livelihoods have been economically ruined, those who have suffered the injustices of racism.
So, another challenge to us is to willingly – and maybe even gladly – receive and welcome our crisis-laden current realities as occasions to push out the boundaries of God’s gracious, healing welcome to all.
May the baptismal grace offered by God in Christ through Word and Spirit enable our growth in glad, willing, whole-hearted, unambiguous welcome. Amen.
Now, to deepen your worshipful engagement and to extend our holy conversation, I invite your reflection on and conversation about a few questions:
- What would it take for you to grow in the ability to welcome others more gladly, more willingly?
- Who are those in your circumstances whom you feel drawn to welcome more genuinely and fully, especially those who might otherwise be excluded?
- What unwelcome circumstances might you be called more willingly to embrace for the sake of extending your welcome to still others?
If you are so inclined, you may want to hit pause on the video to reflect on and have conversation about these questions.
May God in Christ bless your reflections and holy conversations.