Libby Tedder Hugus
In June of 2005, U.S. Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and SEAL Team 10 were assigned to a mission to kill or capture Ahmad Shah a high-ranking Taliban leader responsible for killings in eastern Afghanistan and the Hindu-Kush mountains.
Local sheepherders stumbled upon the team and ended up betraying the SEALS to local Taliban militia, and a horrific gun-battle ensued. Marcus was the only survivor. Badly wounded, he managed to walk and crawl seven miles to evade capture. He was miraculously given shelter by an Afghan tribe, who at the risk of their own lives alerted the Americans of his presence, and American forces finally rescued him six days after the gun battle.
The Afghan man who gave shelter to Marcus is Mohammad Gulab. Mohammad lives by the “Pushtunwali” code of honor which promotes self-respect, independence, justice, hospitality, love, forgiveness, revenge and tolerance toward all, especially to strangers or guests.
Part of the Pashtunwali code is the concept of “Nanawatai” meaning sanctuary. Nanawati allows a person to seek refuge in the house of another, seeking asylum against his enemies. The host is honor-bound to offer that protection, even at the cost of his own family or fortune.
When Marcus found himself in enemy territory and bound by the beautiful “Pushtunwali” honor code, Mohamed prepared a table, a shelter for Marcus that literally saved his life. Mohamed was not only threatened during the time Marcus was sheltered in his home, but continued to face persecution afterward. The Taliban has targeted the whole village for being traitors.
Marcus and Mohamed have become dear friends, and Mohammed has since immigrated to the USA with his family because the persecution was so strong from the Taliban, a consequence for providing shelter to a complete and total stranger who found himself in enemy territory.
In the final three verses of Matthew’s gospel chapter ten, we hear from Jesus about the reward for those who receive anyone representing him as emissaries of God’s global mission. The theology of mission underlying Matthew’s gospel is girded by the principle of “imitatio Christi,” or imitating Christ, which is far more than just imitation. In the Hebrew tradition the word is “shaliah,” in the Greek it is “apostolos,” meaning the one who is sent represents the full presence of the one who sends.
Chapter ten of Matthew’s gospel is known by scholars as “the missionary discourse” in which Jesus sends the twelve disciples to represent his presence entirely, as he was sent by God. If this sending passage seems unfamiliar or demanding, perhaps it is time to reexamine what we understand of Christian living, what we know to be our calling as Jesus’ disciples in this world. It is a call to witness that warns of persecution, poverty and possibly martyrdom. Matthew chapter ten is a vision of the essence of Christian life:
“confession of [God’s act in] Jesus, living toward the eschaton with a concern for mission in this world, letting go of both material possessions and fear of what others might think about us or do to us, placing of loyalty to the God reveled in Christ above all other loyalties, even the deepest ones of home and family, a life of non-residence to violence, trust in God and God’s future.” (M. Eugene Boring, The Gospel of Matthew, The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, vol VIII, page 263)
For Matthew, this was not a call to the twelve disciples alone: this was a call to all disciples of Jesus. A call to deeply faithful representation of God’s heart of hospitality found in Jesus.
And then there are those final three verses, verses that we overhear as readers as exhortation and promise directly from Jesus to those who welcome his representatives, his missionaries. What does it mean? If we welcome Jesus’ ambassadors, we will share in their reward? What kind of reward? It does not seem like the requirement has saint-like stakes. A simple act of hospitable welcome, a cup of cold water, can mean full inclusion in the reward Jesus offers.
At the distilled heart of God’s mission is this startling reality: welcoming the other, the stranger, the outsider, the foreigner, even the bedraggled traveling missionary is enough, in God’s books, to be rewarded. The reward is centered in the deep hospitality found in God’s welcome of us. We were first welcomed, and offering welcome to others is the reward of being found in the sacred loop of God’s very own heart: a heart of hospitality, a heart of welcome.
Acts of hospitality are possible at all times. Cups of cool water, shared meals, clothing, shelter, a listening ear. When we offer hospitality, we welcome the unknown. We invite the new, the different, the possibilities of fresh perspective and vulnerable sharing.
Matthew chapter ten is Jesus’ high calling and sending of the twelve disciples (and therefore all willing followers) into God’s mission. It is demanding, it is potentially dangerous, it is stark. What if Christians took to heart this call to discipleship, and the reward for hospitality as seriously as Muhomed Gulab did when he welcomed Marcus Luttrell into his home? What if we bound ourselves to God’s hospitable welcome of us, like Mohamed did to his tribal understanding of the Pashtunwaliq code, especially in the case of strangers and guests. What if, like Mohamed, we were prepared to offer “nanawatai” or sanctuary to more than just Jesus’ emissaries, but even to our enemies?
Will the world know we are Christians by our love and hospitality, or by our short-sighted and selfish boundaries?
What does the welcome mat in front of your church and home represent? Does it reflect to the world that you are an ambassador of the full presence of God in Jesus? Or does it subliminally indicate ‘stranger danger’ to the outsider unfamiliar with the Jesus you say you follow? Do outsiders shake the dust from their shoes when leaving your place of worship and residence?
Let us welcome Jesus and the One who sent him by opening our lives in generosity and hospitality to those who cross our paths: whether friend or foe. By our hospitality we will be known as Christians. By our acts of hospitality we will be included in the very great reward of God’s own welcome of us who were once but are no longer strangers to love.