Title: Emmaus, Hospitality and Power
Text: Luke 24:13-31
Author: Isaac S. Villegas
Date: February 2, 2014
Event: MCUSA People of Color, “Hope for the Future”
Place: The National Conference Center, Leesburg, VA
Luke 24:30, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” He took the bread. He broke it. And he gave it.
This is odd. Doesn’t Jesus know his place? If he doesn’t, somebody should remind him, right? Somebody should let him know where he belongs, and where he doesn’t, before he gets himself in trouble, before somebody puts him in his place. Someone needs to remind Jesus of the facts — that this is not his house, this is not his dinning room table; he didn’t buy this bread; it doesn’t belong to him; he shouldn’t be giving away. Who does he think he is?
He’s a guest, not the host. He’s a stranger. He’s a foreigner, dependent on the hospitality of others, dependant on benevolent hosts, dependant on charity, on good-hearted people, like Cleopas and his friend.
But Jesus forgets all of this; he ignores all rules about how guests are supposed to act — the unspoken rules, the social norms, the cultural expectations that tell us how guests are supposed to act, the proper deference guests are supposed to show to their hosts, the proper gratitude guests are supposed to express to their hosts.
When Cleopas and the other disciple invite Jesus to stay with them, Jesus takes a seat at the head of the table and acts like the host. He takes their bread and feeds them with it, and he never asks permission.
My parents taught me how to act as a guest, because that’s what we were, as immigrants — guests in someone else’s country, guests in someone else’s culture, guests in someone else’s language. I learned that if you want to survive in a land not your own, it’s important to become proficient in their customs, to pay attention to their manners, to their etiquette. I learned that if you want to survive in a culture not your own, it’s important to study the hosts, to get to know them better than they know themselves, to know their patterns of behavior, their cultural rituals. Because, if you want to survive, you don’t want to risk your status as a guest, your place as a guest, as a welcomed guest. So you don’t give them any reason to think that you don’t belong, any reason to think that you don’t know how to be grateful for their hospitality, for their generosity, for how accommodating they are, as they welcome us into their neighborhoods, their schools, their stores, their cities.
But Jesus, in the story — Jesus is the stranger who acts like he belongs. He is the foreigner who refuses to be an outsider, who refuses to play the part he is supposed to play, who refuses to be the guest, who refuses to be on the receiving end of the generosity of the hosts.
Instead, Jesus is the guest who becomes the host. He doesn’t ask for power — he takes it and gives it away. He doesn’t ask permission to take the seat at the head of the table. He doesn’t ask permission to take their bread and break it and give it to them. He just does it. He is the guest who takes the position of the host, the position of power. And when he takes it, he turns the table on his hosts; he switches the nature of the relationship. He is a rude interruption of the customs of how guests and hosts are supposed to treat one another. He disrupts the power relations, he disrupts the power dynamics; he reverses the power structure, he reverses the flow of power in the room, the distribution of power at the table.
This story is about power. Hospitality is always about power. And Jesus messes with the rules about who is supposed to give and who is supposed to receive, which are the fundamentals of power: who has the resources, who is allowed to decide how to use them, who do you ask if you want some power, and who is trusted enough to receive it, trusted enough to be invited to the table, to be welcomed into power, who are the people deserving enough to receive hospitality, who are the people that need a handout?
Hospitality is all about power — who has it, who can share it, who can decide on how to use it and who should get it, who deserves it, who can be trusted with it.
And Jesus doesn’t play that game. Or, maybe a better way to say it would be to say that Jesus plays their game, but he does it the wrong way — not because he doesn’t know how the game works, but because he wants to show them something new, he wants to share with them good news that they’ve missed so far, good news that they have been too blind to see. He wants to unveil their eyes, to strip away everything that prevents them from receiving, everything that keeps them from recognizing the person in front of them, everything that keeps them from knowing the stranger for who he is—a gift.
At the table, when the guest becomes the host, the world changes for Cleopas and the other disciple. Their eyes are unveiled. Their vision unmasked. It’s a moment of apocalypse, where the old world falls away and a new world begins.
At the table, when the guest becomes the host, the disciples can finally begin to see; they can begin to see resurrection. “They their eyes were opened,” it says in verse 30, “and they recognized him.”
Our conversations this weekend have been about power. This gathering is about power — about how power flows in our communities, in our churches, in our denomination. Who has it? Who wants it? Who needs it?
And this communion meal we will share in a few moments is about power — the Lord’s Supper has always been about power, about who can take the bread, break it, and give it. Who can give, and who can receive? Who is the host, and who is the guest?
Luke 24:30, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.”
This story from Luke’s Gospel, and this communion meal we celebrate, invite us into the strangeness of the gospel, the strangeness of life with Christ — a life that calls into question our assumptions about how power is supposed to work, a life that turns the table on us as soon as we start talking about hospitality, as soon as we start talking about who is supposed to welcome whom, who’s the guest and who’s the host, as soon as we start talking about who owns the house, who owns the table, who has the money to buy the bread. Jesus turns the tables on us as soon as we fall into the old patterns of host and guest. Because, when we invite Jesus to church, he asks us a question: What makes you think you own anything? What makes you think any of this is yours? — this house, this table, this bread?
When we invite Jesus, he will act as if your life is his life, as if your house is his house, your table his table, your food his food, and then you know what he’s going to do? He’s going to give it all away to his friends, to strangers, and maybe even to some of his enemies, some of your enemies, because Jesus is into that — he’s into loving his enemies.
Communion reminds us that we are recipients of Christ’s hospitality, that we are guests in God’s house, that we are strangers who are welcomed as friends. Communion exposes our temptations to pretend that we own the church, or that they own the church, whoever they might be. But we don’t. They don’t. None of us do. Instead, we are guests. Together, we are guests. All of us. Even the owners. Even the pastors and bishops. Even the CEOs and the presidents and the executive directors.
If you think you own the house, if you think you own the bread, then you probably shouldn’t invite Jesus over for supper, because if you do, he’s going to take it from you and he’s going to give it all away.
He’s the worst kind of guest, and that’s good news.