I wonder at what point in history the welcome mat became commonplace. A cursory web search suggests that they may have started roughly 6,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, but who knows? (I guess you can’t necessarily believe everything you read on the internet???)
Regardless of its origin, I quite love the notion of a welcome mat. In this day, it seems we less frequently tend to visit others at their homes, opting instead for the ubiquitous coffee shop or restaurant meeting place. Perhaps it’s my perspective only, but I remember during my childhood it seems far more typical that folks would pop by the house, even unannounced, to pay a visit. In fact, my recollection of those occasions is fond … I actually enjoyed the impromptu stopover from friends and family. The only time someone wouldn’t be definitively welcome is if we happened not to be home.
Whether or not we had a literal welcome mat at our house then, we certainly had a conceptual one. A welcome mat at the doorstep says, in effect, “Thank you for coming and for allowing us the opportunity to host you. Please come back again, often. You are always welcome.”
There’s a bible story that speaks of a welcome mat, though not one at a front door.
When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home. Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, “What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!” Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”
The paralyzed man’s buddies approached the house and perhaps saw a welcome mat, but not a welcome set of circumstances for another group of people to enter the already packed house. Not only were his friends undeterred, but Jesus was unrelenting in His welcome of the devoted group of guys and their paralyzed compadre. The mat the paralyzed guy was laying on was just as welcome as if he’d entered in a more conventional way.
When it came to those in need, Jesus always had a welcome mat around Him (and let’s be clear, they were – and we are – all in need of Jesus). And just as I internalized about welcome mats as a kid, the welcome mat didn’t solely welcome someone into His presence, it said demonstratively, “Thank you for coming and for allowing Me the opportunity to host you. Please come back again, often. You are always welcome.” Perhaps Jesus’s welcome mat would say more than “Welcome,” it would say, “Always Welcome.”
You see, I suppose many of us think of Jesus as someone who “did” things previously. At some ancient time in the long-ago past. Or that He was someone who did some things “for those people” … you know, the ones in the Bible. The ones that were part of the stories. Or maybe we see Jesus as someone who did things back then for other people but wouldn’t or couldn’t do things for us today (like heal us, care for us, be concerned about our issues, etc.).
To believe those things would be to miss the glaring welcome mat that He would want us to see. That is, the Always Welcome mat. And not only see, but to actually internalize and take in the feeling of welcome He wants us to feel. Today. Now.
He is never “out,” never busy, never in the middle of something else. He is always home, and He is always thrilled to spend time with us. More than that, He is always present and ever ready to tend to whatever it is we’re grappling with in the moment. When it comes to us seeking Jesus, there is always a welcome mat. Really, an Always Welcome mat.
Moreover, He is not limited to a previous time, to certain miracles, for only certain people. He is present NOW, in ALL things, and specifically for YOU and for ME. He is All we need for all we need. Not only is there always a welcome mat when we arrive, but He tells us, “I’m always here. Whenever you need me or just want to spend time.”
Of course, in the old days, we were always happy to receive visitors. But we couldn’t receive visitors that didn’t visit, that didn’t come by. So, Jesus would invite you and me to remember, He is always home, but you and I can’t experience His hospitality and welcome, His rest and healing, His accommodation and love, if we don’t actually go to Him, to visit Him and to stop by. The thing is, His residence and His abode is in our hearts (if we’ve accepted His free gift of forgiveness), so in order to visit we don’t have to go far. He’s readily available and closely local within us, so all we really have to do is approach His presence and He is always at the ready to receive us. There is not just always a welcome mat before Him, there’s an Always Welcome mat. And, He is ALWAYS able to care for whatever needs we bring along with us.
Let’s you and I avail ourselves to His Always Welcome mat!
Soli Deo gloria!