I don’t know how many of you like Tom Clancy’s international spy thrillers. All thirteen of his novels have hit #1 in the New York Times bestseller list. Jack Ryan is a TV series based on Tom Clancy’s fictional character who works for the CIA. The show is fascinating because each episode covers multiple countries, like the James Bond movies.
In the final season that was just released, Jack Ryan tries to take down a Burmese drug cartel based in Shan State in Burma. Clancy knows how to draw his audience’s attention with exotic locations and he knows how to tell a gripping story. As someone from Burma, I gravitate to this season of Jack Ryan.
Shan State in Burma is known for its hospitality. Shans are one of the largest tribal groups in Burma. Just as we often talk about Southern hospitality in the U.S., people there like to mention Shan hospitality.
However, there’s a quirk about their hospitality. If you travel to Shan State, you’ll see most homes have their front door open, especially in small villages. You can enter any home without an invitation. In the living room, there’s always a tea table with a pot and cups ready to serve the guests.
They will serve you a cup of tea as soon as you enter the house. If you know the culture, you just sit down and start sipping the tea. The host will also sip his tea. No words are needed. You commune with the host in a realm beyond speech. Then you start talking about the reason for your visit.
The problem is, you must drink the tea they offer, at least take a sip. If you don’t drink their tea, they will treat you as an enemy. In their mind, they think, “Why don’t you drink our tea? You think we’ll poison you?” So, they take offense for not accepting their hospitality. That’s the quirk I’m talking about.
As society progresses, hospitality also erodes. In big cities, most people keep their doors locked and protect their privacy. Of course, one of the reasons is the fear of crime. Robbers and thieves keep us suspicious of strangers. Sometimes, we don’t want people to see the skeletons in our closet.
Nowadays, even many church doors are tightly locked. It used to be that we could walk into any church and sit down to pray. When we were in Paramus, every now and then, people would stop by to pray in the sanctuary. After some churches and synagogues shooting, some churches began to have armed ushers.
How do we provide hospitality in an age of hostility? Maybe we should put a tea table at the door. If you drink my tea, you are my friend; come in. If you don’t drink my tea, leave! Just a thought.
The Bible reveals that hospitality is one of God’s hidden commandments because it is not listed in the Big Ten but shows up everywhere, both in the Old and New Testaments. Stories and after stories indicate that God takes hospitality seriously.
Jesus also talks about how God generously rewards those who are hospitable as well as severely punishes those who aren’t. I know some people love to throw a party anytime there’s a reason, but others stress out thinking about entertaining guests.
Jesus wants us to regard hospitality as a ministry. He is not talking about randomly throwing a party but purposefully using hospitality to support his mission. Since God takes hospitality seriously, we should develop it as one of our values. Today, we will look at how Jesus reveals this hidden commandment. Let’s begin!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to Matthew 10:40-42. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” (Mt 10:40–42).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s word. Thanks be to God!]
This passage (based on today’s lectionary) is very short but very positive. It reveals the purpose of hospitality and its reward. To put it in context, Jesus was talking to the disciples before sending them out on a mission to proclaim the kingdom, warning them that they would encounter hostility, and he said,
“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Mt 10:16).
We dealt with this passage last week. Jesus taught them his art of war: how to be smart like a snake to survive the wolves while maintaining innocence like doves. If you wonder if Jesus loves animals, this verse is proof! In one short verse, Jesus talks about four animals: sheep, wolves, serpents, and doves.
Now, Jesus talks about their strategic partners. Among the hostility, they can still find hospitality. He said,
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (Mat 10:40).
We can examine the roles of the two parties involved—you and the host. You, who are sent by Jesus Christ, represent Jesus and also represent God. That is a mindset we must always keep. As a disciple, you are not representing yourself in the society. You are a messenger or a servant of the Lord.
So, when people receive you, you are not to become proud, and when they reject you, you are not to be discouraged. Maintaining this attitude is essential, or your ego will get the better of you.
When I first went to college in Mandalay and attended the Methodist church in that town. The elders of that church treated me exceptionally well, and I was surprised because I knew I wasn’t a well-behaved young man and I didn’t deserve such respect from honorable people like them. I wondered why, but I was elated.
One day, I told my uncle about it. He was the District Superintendent of the Methodist church. He said, “Why wonder? They treat you well because you are my nephew.” He didn’t sound very humble, but it was the truth. Sometimes, people treat you not because of who you are but because of your relationship.
So, Jesus is saying, don’t get elated or proud. They receive you because you are a child of the Creator of the universe. Let all glory and honor go to your Father.
On the other hand, there were people who hated my uncle. Because of my relationship with him, they dislike me as well. In that case, I learned not to take it personally.
In the same way, Jesus said when people persecute you, they persecute your Father in Heaven. Jesus wants you not to carry the emotional burden of persecution. If you understand this concept, you can do anything with courage. Maintaining the attitude of being a servant or messenger is liberating. You keep the stress and anxiety away from you.
Then, Jesus talked about the reward of hospitality,
Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous. (Mat 10:41).
That is very interesting. By being hospitable, you receive the same reward as God’s servant, to whom you provided hospitality. My grandma loves to welcome the missionaries and preachers stopping by our town. Our home was like an AirB&B for missionaries.
My grandma never went to school and was illiterate, but according to Jesus, she is now in heaven, enjoying the same retirement benefits of the missionaries. So, here is a tip. If you think you don’t have the opportunity to serve God as a missionary, preacher, or teacher, just provide hospitality to them, and you get the same reward from God.
Many years ago, a pastor stopped by my father’s hotel and introduced himself as the founder of Operation Dawn, a drug rehabilitation ministry in Taiwan. He told my father to buy a piece of land so that he could expand his ministry to Burma.
He left for Taiwan after giving that instruction, and my father fulfilled his request by buying a large piece of land. He told me, “I don’t know this guy. He asked me to buy land without giving me a penny. Now, I have a piece of land in my hand without knowing if or when he will return. If this stranger doesn’t return, I’d be struck with a piece of land with my money frozen in it.”
The man did return and founded a very successful branch of Operation Dawn in Burma. They became good friends and saved numerous lives of drug addicts over the years. For the rest of his life, my father still couldn’t figure out why he listened to this stranger and bought the land. He believed God was involved in prompting him to trust the man God sent to him.
Again, according to Jesus, he is now in heaven, receiving the same reward as a missionary he provided hospitality to.
Now, Jesus went even a step further. You don’t even have to provide room and board for God’s servant to receive the reward. God will remember even a small gesture of kindness to God’s servant. Jesus said,
“and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” (Mat 10:42).
He called his servant “little ones” lovingly, like a parent addressing his children. All parents can understand that we feel grateful to anyone who treats our children well. Jesus describes how he feels when someone treats his children kindly and promises to reward them dearly.
This passage reveals how we can involve in God’s ministry. God treats the supporting roles of hospitality the same as the leading players. A ministry involves many people. Paul also said,
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Co 3:6, 8, 9).
I heard a story about a pastor who died and went to heaven. An angel ushered him in and showed him his new home in heaven. It was a beautiful house, but next to his was a huge mansion making his house look like a small hut in contrast. He thought it must belong to a bishop or someone like Billy Graham.
He asked the angel whose home it was. To his surprise, the angel said, “That’s Mrs. Smith’s home. Don’t you know she is a member of your church? She requested that she wanted to be near you. That’s why your house is next to her.”
“Mrs. Smith from my church?” the pastor questioned, “But, she always came to church early, swept the floor, cleaned the pews, and then sat in the back pew and dozed off because she couldn’t hear well. Are you sure that’s for Mrs. Smith? Maybe you’ve got it wrong. That should be my house. This one should be hers.”
The angel replied, “Oh, no. There’s no mistake in heaven. You misunderstood what she did. She wasn’t dozing off in the back pew. She was praying for you. Since she couldn’t hear well, she used her time in the worship to pray for your preaching. Where do you think the power of your sermon comes from?”
If hospitality represents playing a supporting role in ministry, supporting with prayer is also a form of hospitality. This story is not just a fantasy story promising unrealistic rewards for ministry. It has a biblical base. Jesus’ comment on the poor widow’s donation is a good example.
He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” (Lk 21:1–4).
We see the amount of the contribution, but God sees the proportion of the contribution. We are rewarded based on the proportion, not on the face value. So, the story about Mrs. Smith’s mansion is not unreasonable.
If Jesus regards a cup of cold water as an act of hospitality, two copper coins also constitute hospitality.
Let us all learn to give our utmost to his highest and find our unique and creative ways to fulfill the hidden commandment of hospitality.
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom, purpose, and happiness.