Hospitality and hostility

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (February 7, 2010)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Is. 6:1-8; Ps. 138; I Cor. 15:1-11; Lk. 5:1-11

This week we welcomed visitors from the Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) and a group of 30 students from Eastern Mennonite University.

JRS is working with Iraqi refugees in Amman, helping them prepare to return to Iraq or resettle in third countries. They operate an after school center in Amman that helps Iraqis connect with one another, while learning French, English and computer skills.

The EMU students are spending a semester in the Middle East – traveling through Egypt, Jordan and Palestine-Israel. They asked excellent questions about MCC’s work in the region and enjoyed exploring Petra, Wadi Rum and other sites in Jordan.

Doug Hostetter, MCC UN Office director, shares photos with young adult volunteers at Al Najd Developmental Forum in Gaza City

A highlight of the week was being invited to a Jordanian home for mansef – the national dish, made with rice, meat, yogurt sauce and pine nuts. The hospitality was nothing short of amazing. We sat on the floor and ate with our hands from a common platter piled high with food. It was a wonderful and intimate cultural experience. Later, over many cups of tea and Arabic coffee, we listened as family members shared stories about politics, religion and daily life in Jordan.

Daryl and Cindy with baby Chris, son of MCC local staff Bassem Thabet and wife Nora

In the region this week, Israeli jets bombed the tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border. The story caught our attention, as we had just driven this strip of land the previous week. In Iraq, Shia Muslims were targeted as they made a religious pilgrimage to their holy city of Karbala. At least 40 persons were killed.

The juxtaposition of hospitality and hostility is a sobering reminder that the human community holds the potential for both.

The Common Lectionary readings this week highlight our human sense of inadequacy, but also remind us that, in spite of our failings, God graciously calls us and uses us in significant ways.

In the Old Testament reading, Isaiah – surrounded by God’s holy presence – exclaims: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips . . . yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Is. 6:5). A heavenly being touches Isaiah’s mouth with a hot coal and declares that Isaiah’s guilt has departed and his sin is blotted out (v.7). The Lord asks, “Whom shall I send” to do my work? Isaiah responds, “Here am I; send me!” (v.8).

The psalmist is also aware of his trouble and need for God’s deliverance (Ps. 138:7). And yet, with confidence, the psalmist exclaims: “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever” (v.8).

In the Epistle reading, Paul writes that he is the “least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (I Cor. 15:9). Still, by God’s grace, Paul now proclaims God’s good news, working harder than any of the other apostles (v.10).

In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells Simon Peter to let down his fishing nets into deep water (Lk. 5:4). Even though Peter has fished all night and caught nothing, he obeys Jesus. Immediately, Peter and his partners catch so many fish that their nets begin to break and their boats begin to sink (v.6-7). Recognizing Jesus’ divine power, Peter falls at the knees of Jesus and declares, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (v.8). Jesus responds, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people” (v.10). Peter, James and John leave everything and follow Jesus (v.11).

With Isaiah, Paul and Peter, we easily identify with feelings of being inadequate, sinful, not up to the task. And yet God continues to extend grace. May we, like they, respond in obedience to all that God calls us to be and do.

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