The great patriarch Abraham who is the Father of the Chosen People of Israel was a nomad who spent much of his life in the desert. Perhaps that is why hospitality was so important to him and to his people. This story or legend is so old, it is quite possible that Jesus heard it when he was a child. One day he saw a stranger walking in the distance and called out, inviting him to dine with him and stay the night. The traveler quickly agreed. But as Abraham was preparing to serve the meal, he learned the guest was a fire-worshipper. He immediately threw him out without anything to eat or drink.
That night, God appeared to Abraham in a dream and asked, “Why did you treat your guest as poorly as you did?” The patriarch replied, “My Lord, it was because the man did not worship you, the one true God.” God continued, “Abraham, Abraham, I have lived with that unbeliever for sixtyyears. Couldn’t you have put up with him for one night?” This story has been passed down for generations even though it makes Abraham look bad because hospitality was and is a very important practice and virtue
Throughout both the old and new testaments, God’s people are called, urged, and commanded to be hospitable. In our first reading, we heard of the hospitality of a women and her husband for the prophet Elisha. In our gospel today, Jesus says, “Whoever receives you, receives me.” People of that time believed that to receive a king’s ambassador was the same as receiving the king. To welcome with love the messenger of a friend was the same as welcoming the friend.
So we are challenged this morning to take a look at our hospitality. It is all too easy to be like Abraham: hospitable to people whom we know, like, or find acceptable. The gospel calls us to be hospitable to everyone, even and especially people we don’t like. And whenever we are hospitable and helpful to someone in need, we are helping Christ.
As a parish we need to be more hospitable. After Mass, don’t just talk to the people you know; talk to everyone you meet, especially visitors and newcomers. It is important that people feel welcome here for honoring the Lord and us with their presence. Several have told me that it was months and even years before anyone spoke to them when they were coming every week. How sad and wrong!
Be sure of this: one of the standards by which God will judge us is hospitality. Be welcoming, friendly, and open to everyone as you would for Jesus.