For some time I lived in the middle-east, many years ago before I ever came to Brisbane. Living in that world I learnt what a solemn, indeed urgent, obligation hospitality is in those cultures. What is true now in that part of the world was certainly true in the time of Jesus. Hospitality in the middle- east is not just important, it really is a matter of life and death. If you are in the desert, and there is a lot of desert in the middle east, if you do not find hospitality you die. If you find hospitality you live. So that in the Bedouin cultures for example, the desert communities, it really does become a matter of life or death. Even in the towns and the cities it is a solemn and urgent obligation. Which is why it is so extraordinary in the story that we have just heard that Simon the Pharisee, a man of means, substance and importance, fails so abysmally on the score of hospitality. We hear it from the lips of Jesus himself. “You poured no water over my feet.” The first and most basic task of hospitality required was to wash the feet of those that had been walking the dusty paths of the countryside. “You gave me no kiss.” Again the kiss of welcome, recognising that you are my flesh and blood. Not my inferior but my equal. I welcome you as one of my own. “You gave me no kiss!” “Did not anoint my head with oil,” and so on it goes. Simon has invited Jesus to dinner but this is no welcome. This is no genuine act of hospitality. He’s testing Jesus. He wants to see how he reacts to this woman, who may well have been invited in at Simon’s behest just to see what Jesus would do. This is not the hospitable ‘ah-ha’, it is the watchful eye. The eye of distrust.
Contrast Simon’s inhospitality, his abysmal failure at the point of welcome, with the astonishing and extravagant welcome that we see in Jesus. This is the hospitality of God. Jesus who allows the woman even to touch him. They all remark upon it. Simon says “if he knew what kind of woman this was, he would not have allowed her to touch him.” In that culture, for a woman to touch a man or vice versa was completely out of order. Here she is, she has got a bad name in town, and he allows her to touch him. And then he forgives her. This is the hospitality of God that as it were goes way over the top. This is the welcome that far exceeds even the warmest of human welcomes, and it is the hospitality that gathers us here in this Cathedral on this, the Lord’s day. This is an altar that will become a table and the table is the table of the feast where God provides an unbelievably hospitable welcome, providing us not with just bread and wine for the journey but with bread and wine which are the body and blood of his son. What else could he give? He couldn’t give anything more. This is the hospitality that gives everything, not just water to wash the feet, not just the kiss or the oil to anoint the head but the God who gives us everything. The World Youth Day pilgrims who we commission here today, and I have to say I am one of them, kind of. They have a staff and I have a crozier. They will go on a journey and it is a journey into hospitality. First of all they will touch down in Santiago, where they will be greeted by the Columban fathers, and I’m delighted to welcome Fr Dan Hardy who is with us, a Columban Father, works in Chile, and is here to speak to the pilgrims about what awaits them there. I don’t know Santiago, but I do know our pilgrims there will receive an overwhelming welcome. The kind of welcome for which Latin America is renowned. Similarly when they go onto Rio de Janiero they will again strike an extraordinary welcome. It’s always like that with World Youth Day. This is not just the welcome of Santiago or Rio de Janiero, it is the welcome of God. It’s into that hospitality that our pilgrims journey, and that’s what we commission them to do here today. Not to be tourists but to be pilgrims who can go to the heart of the hospitality of God. And who doing that come back to us as those who can tell us more of what it means for us as the Church in Brisbane to live and offer the hospitality of God. Because what else is the church if not a community gathered together by God in order to offer the welcome, the hospitality of God, particularly to those who are most on the margins? The most broken; most wounded; the most rejected. That is what the church is and we need these, our brothers and sisters whom we commission as pilgrims today, to go into the hospitality of God and learn more of it, be touched more powerfully by it so that you come back to us bearing the gifts of pilgrimage. Gifts that can teach us, all of us, more of the journey that we must take, the journey of great faith that we must to take to the point that we become in the world the hospitality and the welcome of God.
Yesterday I went and had my injections. Looking at the list of things on the injections that you can and should have, I thought to myself what a dangerous place it is, the world. There is so much that can go wrong. So many bugs out there ready to get you. But then I thought to myself the one vaccination I didn’t get from Doctor Deb, and that she couldn’t give me, was the one that is most essential if we want to succeed on the pilgrimage of life. That is the vaccination against the kind of hospitality we see in Simon the Pharisee. I wish it were as simple as getting a jab, but it’s not. All of us must go on this long journey of learning. Learning what it is, in a profoundly inhospitable world, to live and embody the hospitality of God. To that hospitality we commend you pilgrims. Go into it, to its very heart as you set forth on the great journey of faith, and then come back to us as those who can give us a booster so that we may learn what it is to live the welcome of God. To be hospitable as the church is called to be. Amen.
Most Rev Mark Coleridge
Archbishop of Brisbane
June 16, 2013