16th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Reflections on Hospitality

July 17, 2022

Last year, the US hospitality industry generated 206 billion dollars.  The industry provides lodging, food, and entertainment.  The word “hospitality” means to “serve a guest,” and we do this by being hospitable and gracious.  We can do it in love and with grace.

Our scriptures today want us to understand the importance of hospitality and encourage us to appreciate the human connections that it fosters and the spiritual roots of its origin.

Hospitality is more than a successful business with employees of “outgoing,” pleasant personalities with comfortable-to-luxurious services to sell.

Hospitality is the most necessary and basic virtue of what it means to be a human being.  Hospitality recognizes “another” and becomes attentive to “another.”  More than a service, hospitality is caring overflowing from the heart of one person to another.  Hospitality expresses our equality, our humility, our need to support one another.  It represents sharing the blessings of life.  Before hospitality became an industry, hospitality honored the presence of the spirit of God in someone else.  More than money or cost, hospitality acknowledges that we honor and accept each other because we share the same human gifts.  So we shake a hand, look another in the eye.  We bless each other with warmth and welcome because God has created our uniqueness and invites us to enjoy each other’s company.

Hopefully, we see our unique cultural identities as gifts and not threats.  Hopefully, we are getting out of our self-imposed containment, to open our lives and hearts, to receive the beauty of difference, to receive blessings from others, and to be blessings to one another.

As we move into the future, national borders, different languages and cultural customs will lead [us] into a fuller appreciation for each other, hopefully.  Hospitality can offer the grace to be attentive to what a person needs; to transcend culture and language.  There are no borders really, now, except the border of humanity which we all share together.

Such an idea might cause us to cringe, to crawl back into our old self-defenses, to feel our spine straighten into rigidity, to go backward, rather than forward.  As Abraham and God welcome each other today, so we are to welcome one another.

We are supposed to be followers of Jesus, students of God’s ways and thinking.  Jesus speaks to prejudices; he speaks to us plainly about His God, His Father, whom he represented – to respect the stranger, the one I do not know, the one I fear, whom I may see first as an enemy rather than a friend.

Where does a big heart and big wide-open mind begin?  Like our Father-in-Faith Abraham, it began when he saw God coming to appear to him in the future of three men.  He welcomed them in true Middle-Eastern hospitality.  What a banquet he threw for them!  There was and is a reward for authentic – from-the-heart hospitality – the promise of a new son for Abraham and Sarah.  What promise is there for us?

True hospitality expresses a genuine desire to welcome, to connect, to go out of the way.  It is more than a person becomes hospitable, but hospitality becomes a blessing to the one who experiences it and to the one who gives it.  — Abraham and the three men, Sarah and the three men.  The first stranger or guest that we welcome is God Himself.  That’s where everything starts.

Hospitality can break down barriers.  Hospitality can open doors to friendliness.  Hospitality can dispel difference.  We look at today’s gospel.

We see Jesus rearranging people’s minds and attitudes and rules of behavior.  The expectation for Martha was to welcome visitors, but never visit or talk to them.  She welcomed and served, but she stayed in an inner room or tent.  Not Mary; she went right to the front of the tent, greeted everyone and sat with guests where only men could sit.  She listened and conversed with Jesus as the men did.  Her sister, Martha, tried to get Jesus to send her back into [the] inner house, but he did not.

Hospitality toward everyone was most important to Jesus.  Everyone was welcome everywhere he was.  He put aside the cultural rules and protocols.  What he wanted to share was for everyone – men and women, and even children.

Fast forward to today.  Pope Francis just appointed three women to sit and work within the congregation of Bishops.  Three women will now offer twice a month their opinions about who is a worthy candidate to be a Bishop – [for] the first time in 2,000 years, women [are] now a part of the process.  What else will come to decentralize, to declericalize, to let women have a say – men and women.  Hospitality, mutual respect, comes to the congregation of Bishops.

P.S.  The heart of true hospitality is not what is served or how beautiful the table may be.  True hospitality comes from our awareness, our love within our hearts, our attentiveness.  We know true and honest hospitality when we see and feel it!

That is what Abraham offered God and what God wants us to offer others.  It is what makes a human being human and a faith community a true community of Faith!

(Editor’s Note:  This homily is very dear to me because Father M. and his sister came to visit my family for lunch just before he wrote this.  He brought the smooth, blessed, olive-wood cross from the Holy Land for my daughter leaving for college, and then four more!  Now everyone in my family has one, even my parents in-law.  His gifts of sharing and caring were evident and a good time was had by all.  At least, this is how I remember it – he may remember it differently! – Sandra)

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