Benedictine monks prioritised the practice of hospitality. In centuries past Benedictine monks welcome travellers, no matter who they were. The traveller would enter the monastery. The abbot himself would wash their feet. No questions were asked of the travellers until their feet had been washed and they had been fed a meal. There was no distinction. There was always radical welcome.
In the gospels Jesus offered radical hospitality. In the event of Jesus’ feeding 5000 (men) the writers give us pointers to indicate that Jesus is acting as host. Jesus blessed the food and gave thanks. Jesus’ blessing food and breaking bread (before this enormous crowd) is a 1st century cue: here is the host.
This radical welcome. Well over 5000 guests are satiated. And there is no possibility of being selective with the guest list. Sinners of every shape and size are here. Joel Green expresses this wonderfully:
Once the boundary-setting and boundary-maintaining function of meals is recalled, the failure of Jesus and his disciples either to observe this role or otherwise to encourage the crowds to observe practices affiliated with it is startling. Here are thousands of people, an undifferentiated mass of people, some undoubtedly unclean, others clean, some more faithful regarding the law, others less so. The food itself – it is clean? Has it been properly prepared? Have tithes been paid on it? Where is the water for washing in preparation for the table? Such concerns are so lacking from this scene that we might miss the extraordinary character of this meal, extraordinary precisely because these concerns are so completely absent… Again, Luke’s narration underscores the degree to which God’s benefaction is without limits. (Green: ‘Luke’, 363).
A welcome without limits. My grandmother had a phrase for certain people who she respected highly. She would say: ‘They are no respecter of persons’. This is a wonderful old phrase: ‘no respecter of persons’. Such people pay no regard to a person’s social standing, high or low. They offer a welcome to all. This way of treating people, of being in the world, is Kingdom shaped. It mirrors Christ to the world.
I read a contemporary Egyptian monk recently who wrote: we always treat guests as angels – just in case.
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