There is something odd about the order of instructions that Jesus gives to his disciples in today’s gospel story. “When you enter a town and its people welcome you, first eat what is set before you, then cure the sick who are there,” Jesus instructs the seventy, “finally, proclaim to them the good news, that the kingdom of God has come near.” It is not the order we expect.
If I had been in Jesus’ position, I probably would have said, “First, go and proclaim the Good News, then demonstrate the Good News by healing the sick. Finally, celebrate by eating a well-deserved meal!” Luckily, I am not Jesus. This does not seem to be a random, unordered list given by Jesus. He felt that the very first instruction—eat whatever they provide you—is so important that it is given twice in this passage. This was vital, as he sent his disciples out into the world, Jesus’ first instruction to them was to sit and break bread with strangers.
There is a spirituality to the act of breaking bread with other people. When we share a meal, we enter into a relationship and enter into a community. Think about it, what do we do when we sit down to eat with others? We talk, we tell stories, we discuss those things in our lives that are frustrating or exciting, and we share in each other’s lives as much as we share in the food that we eat. In the sharing of stories, we are reminded of how much we need each other: for friendship, for companionship, and for the sharing of life.
In the act of sharing a meal with others, we share in the needs of our mortality. After all, if we did not eat, we would die. Every time we eat, it is a reminder that we are mortal and that the sustenance of our life has come at the expense of the life of another. When we eat together, we are sharing in the very intimate act of living; in the breaking of bread we share and receive life.
I think this may have been in part why Jesus commended so strongly the act of sharing meals with strangers as he commissioned the disciples to go out into the world; in the act of sharing stories, in the act of sharing life, and in the act of sharing our need for each other, we learn to accept out dependence on others.
In our society, we value individualism and self-sufficiency, but Jesus sends the seventy out to learn how to be vulnerable, to live a life that is entirely dependent on the community. In doing so, we learn to trust in God’s grace. Jesus says to his disciples, “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” We often hear it as a warning about the dangers of discipleship, but it is also an instruction. Jesus says to the seventy, “Go and learn how to become vulnerable like lambs, placing your livelihood and very life into the hands of strangers. Go and learn to thrive as lambs in the midst of wolves, trusting that God will provide.”
In the acts of sharing food, of partaking of life in community, of depending on others, of becoming vulnerable, and in the act of trusting in God, we experience God. We find God in the small acts of hospitality, in the triumph and grief shared with strangers, in trust, and in the breaking of bread. In doing these things, we learn to see where God is at work in the world. In communities that are not our own, we learn to see God at work in the lives of others, and we learn to see God in strangers.
That is why the seemingly simple act of sharing a meal is the prerequisite of everything else. After all, how can we heal if have not taken the first steps of understanding what is broken? How can we cast our demons if we have not laid the foundation of trusting in God’s grace? How can we proclaim the Good News that the Kingdom of God has come near if we haven’t learned how to see where God is in our midst?
It is our participation in community that allows us to meet the needs of the world, bringing wholeness where before there was brokenness, bringing reconciliation where before there was conflict, and bringing healing where before there was sickness. It is our ability to hear God in the stories of others and to see God in the lives and actions of others that lets us proclaim the Good News.
This is the Good News, my sisters and my brothers. It is that God comes to us in our mortality and in our weakness! It is the Good News that God is at hand and that God provides for us! It is the Good News that God is revealed to us in an act as simple as the breaking of bread!
This story from Luke is also an invitation to us. It is an invitation because parishes all over the Episcopal Church spend a lot of time and energy trying to think of new ways to get strangers to come into our buildings, to enter into our customs, to eat our food, to become vulnerable to us, and ultimately to become like us. But that is not the life to which Jesus commissions us as his disciples.
Jesus sends us out into the world to enter into new communities, not to try and convince people to enter ours. Jesus sends us out to enter into communion with strangers, eating their food and learning their stories, not the other way around. Though we really hate it as Americans in the 21st century, Jesus sends us out to learn humility and to be dependent on the hospitality of others, entrusting our lives to the providence of God, not to be independent and self-sufficient Christians. Jesus commissions us to go out and become like lambs in the midst of wolves, thriving by the grace of God. Jesus sends us out so that we can learn to find God in the world and let go of the idea that God can only be found within these walls.
The meal that we will share here shortly is a meal prepared for us by God. In the most intimate of acts, it is a meal that God prepared for us by sacrificing God’s own self so that we might share and receive life. And most importantly, the meal we will share together at the altar is a model of the many meals we are to share, a model of the bread that we are to break with the world.
Preached by Adam Yates