Sunday, July 2, 2017


Whoever receives you receives me.
Matthew 10

Hospitality, in the Bible, is not merely about being nice to people. It’s about survival in a harsh, often deadly, landscape. Without public accommodations of any kind, travelers were at the total mercy of strangers, on whom they depended for water, food and housing. If you could not depend on the kindness of strangers in that desert climate, especially back then, you’d be in a heap of trouble.    

Being hospitable to strangers also brought blessings to the one offering hospitality. Strangers, dropping by your tent, brought a welcome break from the tedious isolation in which many lived from year to year. It was good to hear news from far off places, experience great adventures at least second-hand and to be exposed to new and interesting ideas and peoples.
Hospitality was not only necessary on a practical level and a welcomed break in a tedious existence, it became, over time, a Jewish religious tradition as well. On the part of the traveler, to experience the free and generous hospitality of strangers, was seen as similar to the free and generous giving of God himself, who asks for nothing in return.  On the part of the one doing the welcoming, over time, people came to believe that to welcome guests with hospitality, was to welcome, if not God himself, at least messengers from God.  

In our first reading today, a woman of influence fixed up a little room on the top floor of her home with a bed, table, chair and lamp for the prophet Elisha who would pass through her town quite often. She would have dinner fixed for him so her and her elderly husband could dine with him. For her generous hospitality, she was rewarded with a baby son even though she had, in the past, not been able to have one. 

As the Letter to the Hebrews, referring to Abraham and Sarah, puts it, “People have entertained angels, unaware.”  As you know, Abraham and Sarah welcomed three strangers who turned out to be angels, messengers from God.  Their hospitality was rewarded with the announcement that they would soon become first-time parents in their old age.

On the other hand, to refuse hospitality even to one’s enemy or to abuse one’s guests in your care was considered a mortal sin, a violation of a most sacred duty.  That’s what the Sodom and Gemorrah story was really all about. Most of the time, people cite it as a condemnation of a forced sexual sin when in reality the sin was not so much a specific forced sex act as it was a sin against hospitality, the mistreatment of guests in your care.  The mistreatment of a guest in your care was the more sinful act in that story.

Jesus teaches his followers that whoever received them were actually receiving Jesus himself and his heavenly Father as well. He goes on to say, "Whoever receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward." Even a cup of cold water given to a disciple, because he is a disciple, will be rewarded. 

Benedictine monks and nuns are famous for carrying over this sacred tradition into the Christian tradition. Their motto is “Receive all guests as you would Christ himself.” Especially in medieval Europe, monasteries and convents were safe and very inexpensive places for the poor to stay when they traveled. Even today, most monasteries have guest houses where people can stay for a donation. And if you don’t think God still rewards those who are hospitable in his name, let me remind you of the two elderly ladies from Indianapolis who left Saint Meinrad Archabbey several million dollars “because the monks always made us feel welcomed.” Thanks to these ladies, the tradition of Benedictine hospitality will continue for years to come.

Hospitality is a practical way to express love for one’s neighbor. Just as hospitality was a serious moral obligation toward friend and foe for the Jewish people of old, practical gestures of welcome and assistance is a serious moral obligation toward friend and foe for those of us who follow Jesus.  It is just as serious as, and cannot be separated, from the love we should have for God. In fact, St. John says “If you say you love God and do not help your neighbor, you are a liar!”

Hospitality for the Christian, then, is not optional. It is probably not a good idea today to welcome street people to stay overnight in your home, but there are ways, even in our culture, to express hospitality. It could be as simple as the way you talk about immigrants. It could be as simple as cooking a meal for an elderly neighbor. It could be as complicated as volunteering to work for Hospice or Catholic Charities refugee services or the Cathedral lunch program. I am trying to practice hospitality by "doing my thing" down in the Caribbean missions.Yes, I am open to help in my mission work down there, but it could be as simple as the way you treat the workers behind the counter at McDonald or people who bag your groceries. It can be as complicated as baby sitting for the young couple next door who need a night out together or mowing your neighbors grass while they are on vacation.

Where there is a will there is a way. If you have a hospitable heart, you will find practical and safe ways to practice hospitality. And, less we forget, God promises to reward even insignificant acts of hospitality. Even the giving of a cup of cold water to a thirsty person will not go unrewarded. You will definitely be rewarded in the next life, but who knows, maybe a few acts of kindness to two old ladies will get a mention in their will to the tune of a million or two!

Personally, I don't need a baby, but I am open to option two! 


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