Hospitality

A Reflection for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C).
Genesis 18:1-10 – Colossians 1:24-28 – Luke 10:38-42.

Today we read about the Biblical tradition of offering hospitality to all-comers, whether friends or strangers. What God requires us to do (Is 58:7) is to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter; when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood.

In the First reading, Abraham and Sarah offered hospitality to the Lord, who presented as three persons. In the Gospel reading, Martha offered hospitality to the Lord Jesus in the house she shared with her sister, Mary. From these examples drawn from both the Old and New Testaments, we discern the importance of offering hospitality to everyone sent across our path by God, whether they be strangers like the three men welcomed by Abraham, or familiars and friends like the Lord Jesus welcomed by Martha and Mary.

In the First reading, Abraham took the initiative to invite the One Lord in three Persons to rest in his home and accept his hospitality. In the Gospel reading, Martha took the initiative to invite the Lord Jesus into her home and to offer Him her hospitality. In our culture, we too can opt in to giving to God our open-handed offerings in material and spiritual terms. (For security reasons it’s understandable that we hold back from inviting all and sundry off the street into our homes these days.) Nonetheless, we can reach out to people in material and spiritual need, and we ourselves need to be on the alert to look out for needy people. People are needy in different ways at different times in life, and it is up to us to have our antennae waggling to identify those we may be able to assist by using our God-given individual gifts. Someone you meet may be suffering and in need of a comforting word or a listening ear or a bite to eat, and yet be unable to articulate that need. When you identify a needy person that you yourself could help, may I encourage you to emulate Abraham and Martha’s examples by reaching out to that person in love for the Lord Jesus’ sake? Your offering may be accepted or rejected, but whatever the outcome, you will be fulfilling the Lord’s exhortation to love one another as I have loved you (Jn 13:34). Moreover, God will be faithful to you, as Jesus was faithful to God the Father, and as Moses was faithful to everyone in God’s house (Heb 3:2) because you try.

An act of goodness prompts a response of goodness. God’s blessings are directly connected to acts of hospitality and kindness when practiced for His sake. For example, God rewarded Abraham with the promise that his elderly wife Sarah would give birth to a son before the travellers’ return the following year. Our Lord rewarded Martha and Mary with the raising of their brother Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11:43f). Your attention to the needs of others may be rewarded by attention to your personal needs too. You know from your own experience that kind actions from you generate kind words from their recipients, and vice versa. The more open you are to God, and the more hospitable and kindly you are therefore likely to be to other people made in the image of God (Gen 1:27), the more blessings God will shower upon you (Ezek 34:26).

An aspect of offering hospitality is responding to the needs of your guest. You’ve probably been wondering why Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen the better part (v.42) when Martha was rushing round doing all the practical work. The point was that Our Lord was physically present in Martha’s house – and instead of taking advantage of the deepest honour possible this side of eternity, Martha’s mind was preoccupied with many things (v.41), and not just lunch. Mary understood that Jesus’ presence was unique and therefore her priority, but Martha missed out because her mind was buzzing through wanting to serve Jesus in her own way.

A while ago, a man shared with me how he lost his wife and children. He was a building contractor with big plans to make plenty of money to put food on the table for the family and to secure his children’s future. He increased his working hours to 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. For years on end, he was never at home with them or spent time with them. Eventually the relationship failed because they no longer knew each other, and his wife left him, taking the children with her. Looking back, he told me, “I dreamed of buying my wife and kids every material thing they wanted. I got so distracted by work that I forgot what they really needed: a husband and father, who was around to give them the love they craved and the support they longed for.”

Sometimes, we get so involved in what we are doing that we forget why we are doing it. We can get so stuck on the treadmill of life that we forget the purpose of living. We can get so busy pursuing the things that money can buy that we forget to prioritise the things that money can’t buy. Martha made the mistake of being so involved in cooking a meal for Jesus that she forgot why Jesus had come. Jesus hadn’t come to Martha’s house for a free meal but, rather, to spend time with His beloved friends. There are times when we too need to step back from being busy in order to sit in the Lord’s presence. He wants to spend time with us: He comes into our hearts at Mass and into our whole selves in Holy Communion. That’s the best way to show Him hospitality!

May the Lord help us to discern when and how we can be helpful to other people for His sake. May He give us the gift of attentiveness to His Word, and may He fulfil our own needs. Amen. God bless you. Fr Kingsley