There's a story in Genesis 18 that makes me wonder just what kind of a gracious (or ungracious) person I might be, and how there are so many qualifiers on when and how that might be the case. The story is about Abraham and some visitors who have come to him in the middle of the night. Seeing them, he wakes his wife and tells her to begin baking them some bread (because when you roll into town in the dead of night, you're thinking...fresh bread). There are three visitors, and Abraham clearly tells Sarah,
Get three measures of flour.
Now, I do hospitality pretty well, particularly if I'm in the mood for it. But I also have a frugal side. And a tired side. And a side that probably isn't going to be enthused about waking in the wee hours to make bread for three strangers who happened to be wandering by. And point of note: if three strangers knock on my door in the middle of the night....
Anyway, I'm thinking this is one of those areas where I'd be more than willing to cut a few corners. It's late. How much bread do we really need? Can't these guys share a loaf and I'll make them all pancakes in the morning? Midnight shouldn't be a meal; a snack, at best, but certainly not a meal. And I wonder if Sarah maybe wouldn't have had some of the same thoughts. After all, Abraham makes it a point to tell her how many measures to use. Does he think she would have thought of using less than a full measure for each guest?
How dare she.
It's easy to fall into the trap of giving people what we think they need, a measure that best suits what we feel comfortable preparing for them given the place and time and situation. It's easy for us to look at a person and assess them, trying to figure out just how much of their emptiness we are responsible for filling. Or prepared to address. Or...whatever it is we're trying to figure out. We're doing the math. We're trying to figure out what we can get away with. We're looking at the clock and thinking it's near midnight, and they can probably make it to morning with just a small measure.
But that's not really up to us, is it? Who are we to be making these sorts of judgments? There's a standard for things, a rule for how things work. There is a measure of what a man deserves, even when it may not seem he requires it, and that's what we have to keep in mind. The recipe calls for one full measure of flour per person. Who are we to sift any less?
It doesn't matter whether they eat it all or not. It doesn't matter whether they're that hungry, or even whether they like your bread. It's not your job, it's not our job, to cater to people; it is our job to welcome them. It's our job to offer them grace in the fullest measure, a sacrificial grace that says, I will give you what you deserve, no matter what. Midnight or no midnight, you're getting the whole shebang.
Because God has brought you into my path and I dare not risk you walking away hungry.
That's what it really is. All these people around us, all the people we're busy sizing up, the people we're trying to figure out how much to give to, they've been brought to our place for a reason. They are here, not there. They are on our doorstep, not our neighbor's. They've come here because there's something about us that's brought them here; there's something about God that's led them here. And we've got something to offer them. However inconvenient or awkward or weird it might seem, we have something for them.
The question is: how much of a measure are we giving them?
Are we giving the people in our lives the full measure of their due? Are we sifting ample grace for them according to God's measure? Or are we doing the math and coming up short?