I have had a long fascination with the Rule of St. Benedict (as has the Church since the sixth century). At first, long stretches make for tedious reading about eating and housekeeping. Every time I return to it, however, I discover deeper layers that have been carefully shaped by Scripture. In chapter 66, the rule outlines the role of a porter or doorkeeper:
"At the door of the monastery, place a sensible old man who knows how to take a message and deliver a reply, and whose age keeps him from roaming about. This porter will need a room near the entrance so that visitors will always find him there to answer them. As soon as anyone knocks, or a poor man calls out, he replies, “Thanks be to God” or “Your blessing, please”; then, with all the gentleness that comes from the fear of God, he provides a prompt answer with the warmth of love.”
Every one of this week’s lectionary texts is hidden in this brief job description.
First, how curious that the porter requests a blessing from guests. This is not a posture saying “what can I get from you” but a gesture of deference and dignity, recognizing that even by their very presence, every person has and is a gift to share.
In a world scared of strangers, we as Christians see and receive them as angelous. They are not specters of fear but messengers of God. The author of Hebrews even challenges our perception of the imprisoned. As both Psalm 112 and St. Benedict teach, "fear of God" means we need not fear one another. Humility before God makes us more grateful, generous, just, and gentle toward others.
In Proverbs and Luke, this humility means recognizing ourselves as guests. Christian hospitality ought to be always dignifying, never patronizing. Though we may hold the door for others, though we may be the ones with answers and assistance, we do so because the seats at the table are no more rightfully ours than they are anyone else’s. Whether in our Sanctuary our our homes, we welcome others not into our space but God’s. So when we come to worship, to God’s own table, how silly—sometimes sinful—it is t0 insist on sitting in “my pew.”
As doorkeepers in the house of the Lord, we are called to seek the lowest seat and receive strangers as friends because we ourselves are guests of grace. We are called to refuse to maneuver for profit because the the economy (“house rules”) of the community of Christ does not operate by quid pro quo. We are called to reject strategies of social status because he character of the community of Christ ought not succumb to competition.