A Call for Hospitality
Gn 18:1-10; Col 1:24-28; Lk 10:38-42
One important Christian virtue is hospitality in its deepest sense. This is what is highlighted in today’s readings.
“Athithi Devo Bhava”, i.e. Guest is God is the ideal of Indian culture, which takes a Christian connotation in “Guest cometh Christ cometh”. In the Bible, God often comes in the guise of a stranger, offering us a free choice to welcome him warmly, ignore him coldly or reject him wickedly. In the episode of Emmaus, Jesus makes as if to go on his way until the two disciples beg him to stay: “Remain with us O Lord, for it is getting dark.” In the Book of Revelations, He just stands at the door and knocks. And, patiently waits for us to open the door. He will not push it open. The choice is ours. It is a free choice, as it was for the rich young man in Mark 10.
But if we really open our hearts and our lives to Him, He will change our lives and “the rivers of water will flow out of us giving life.” Life in abundance, life in all its fullness will be our reward, as it was for Abraham and Sara, who, despite their advanced age, are promised a son; as all of us who welcome Jesus in our life are promised a hundredfold.
There are many things about hospitality that we have to learn. First of all, it is not merely opening our homes but our hearts and our lives, like Mary of Bethany, or Paul among the Colossians, who share the inmost thoughts and feelings of their guests, identifying themselves totally with the other, even in pain. Secondly, hospitality is not so much doing much for the guest as being with the guest-companionship, friendship, solidarity, empathy! This is what Jesus meant when he spoke to Martha and praised Mary. Thirdly, we are challenged to go beyond the boundaries of blood relationship, kinship and friendship, reaching out to total strangers. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me”. Abraham welcomed the strangers not because he saw God in them, but out of the largeness of his heart. When we are large hearted and generous we resemble God. As a result of his spontaneous, warm and generous welcoming of the three strangers into his heart and his home, Abraham had “an encounter with God”. “Whenever you did this to the least of my brothers and sisters you did it to me.”
A celebrated artist has immortalized the episode of Abraham’s hospitality to the three strangers in a classic painting that has become a much acclaimed masterpiece where we can see the three guests seated at the table with obvious Eucharistic connotations, even their posture clearly forming the shape of a chalice. Eucharist is the Meal of Brotherhood and Sisterhood to which the Lord invites all humanity transcending the barriers of caste, creed, culture, community, class and country.
And so, today’s Eucharist holds many challenges to us – to be broadminded and large-hearted; to be warm and welcoming to the last, the least and the lost; to reach out to those who are lonely, loveless and listless. The choice is ours. But if we do respond, then fullness of life will be our reward.