I have some interesting conversations in my work as a highschool chaplain. Yesterday I had a good one with one of the teachers at school about cultural differences. It came about because she wanted to support the chaplaincy program by putting on a morning tea and inviting the other teachers. For me that would have meant buying some biscuits and cordial and cracking out the plastic cups; for her it meant treating us all to a feast, with home-baked cakes and Anzac biscuits, exotic fruit platters, lamingtons, secret-family-recipe fruit punch, and so on…. My one job was to provide a table, and my contribution gradually looked more and more pitiful the more food she brought out.
“This is amazing!” I said, as she thinly sliced some limes to place in each glass. “You’ve done this before.”
“Oh, you obviously didn’t know that I’m married to a Samoan,” she explained. “This is every Sunday for me.” And she went on to tell me about some of the other differences between our cultures.
One part of the conversation that particularly stood out to me was when she talked about how they do funerals. In Samoan culture – or at least where her family is from – family and close friends come from all over to stay with the bereaved family, to be with them, help them grieve, support them, cook for them, look after kids, help them talk through the pain and share stories of life shared and lost. Not just for a week though. This could go on for months, she said. And there’s no polite avoidance of the painful topics. In her family, people will doggedly persist with the hard questions until they’re honestly answered and then can be worked through together. By the time everyone has gone home, the bereaved family is well-and-truly working through their grief and learning to live again despite their loss. It’s the responsibility of the oldest in the family to be there until everyone else has gone, however long that takes.
This comes as quite a contrast when compared with how the western world typically operates. Yes it’s messier, yes it’s more complicated (imagine 20 people living in your house for a month!), yes it’s in-your-face, bare-your-soul honest – but as this teacher talked all I could think was “This sounds a lot like Jesus.” When I read the gospel stories, I feel that Jesus’ home culture seems more like Samoa than America or England.
If you were to use only a few words to describe the way of life that Jesus showed to his disciples, “hospitality” would have to be one of those words. Take Easter for example. On Easter Sunday Jesus beat death for all time, forever altered history by guaranteeing the awesome hope of the gospel, and became the king of the universe. And then he returned to spend a little more time with his followers. Everything had changed, and Jesus now had all the power in the universe at his disposal. What would he do? What would he show his disciples? What would he tell them to do? If you read the stories, it’s a little underwhelming how it played out. Jesus had a meal with his disciples. He walked along a road chatting with some confused friends, then joined them for dinner at their place. He went fishing with his mates, and cooked breakfast for them on the beach. Ordinary, everyday things, simple things, hospitality things – the kinds of things he’d been doing with them all along.
Everything had changed on a cosmic, eternity level. But on the practical, everyday, human level the plan was still the same. God was communicating to us “These simple things really are important. Just keep doing what I showed you!” Share life together, eat together, walk together, laugh together, grieve together, learn together, and help more people to do the same.
It’s not rocket science. But Jesus knew that simple things like this really do have the power to change the world. So may we take some cues from our Samoan friends, and from Jesus himself, and learn to live our lives with more and more depth and generosity, honesty and compassion… and more lime-garnished glasses of secret-family-recipe fruit punch.