This post is one of seven reflections on the whole narrative of the Bible as a story of God’s hospitality. To read these posts in order, click here.
The only one who doesn’t seem surprised by the tragic inhospitality with which earth greets heaven is Jesus. You can tell he knew it was coming.
Which raises the question: Why set out on this mission in the first place? Why take all the risks necessary to give humanity a chance to welcome God, when you know it will end with hostility? Why bring hospitality back to earth if you know it will all be undone by the deepest inhospitality—death.
After all, nothing is less welcoming than death.
In death, the divine welcome that invited humanity from non-existence into existence is completely reversed. Death is the one inhospitality from which God should be immune; even if all of humanity rejects God, life can’t, right?
And yet by becoming a person, God embraces that ultimate risk; Jesus comes intending to be unwelcomed. For some cosmically mysterious reason, Jesus’ mission of hospitality depends on his willingness to experience the fullness of inhospitality. To welcome people back, Jesus has to die.
He doesn’t just die–he’s murdered.
He’s publicly shamed.
He’s mocked by his enemies.
He’s betrayed by one of his apprentices.
He’s rejected by his closest friends.
He’s stripped naked and left to die of thirst.
In fact, the only person who extends any form of hospitality to Jesus in his darkest moment is, of all people, a criminal. Only a man whose life of inhospitality had resulted in the inhospitality of death has the courage to notice that Jesus doesn’t deserve that same inhospitality. And Jesus reciprocates this act of welcome with an invitation into life.
But even in his final moments, Jesus’ hospitality isn’t reserved only for those who welcome him, but also for those who reject him. Looking out at his murderers, Jesus pleads for their forgiveness, proclaiming to the mob shoving him out of life, “You’re still welcome.”
And then he dies, taking on himself the entire unwelcome of the universe. Every moment of estrangement, every broken friendship, every violent word, every abusive betrayal intertwine and wrap themselves around God’s broken, abandoned body and carry him off into the hostile emptiness of the grave.
But even the inhospitality of death is no match for the hospitality of Life.
For further, better reading, I suggest the second half of John’s gospel.