13th Sunday in Year A: Hospitality for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
The woman was rich, wife of one of the elders in town. She had a special gift, a gift of perception, and could see and understand what was not written, not obvious to people. She became aware that there was something special about this man passing through town, and realised that he was a prophet, a man of God. And so, she invited him to dine with her and her husband. Not once, but many times. Extending her hospitality, she also prepared a place for him to stay when he was in town, expecting nothing in return.
She showed great hospitality and generosity by sacrificing her time and some money for the sake of the Lord’s mission. Serving the prophet was serving the Lord as well, after all. Her actions did not go unnoticed by the prophet. Having no children, she was promised a son, and thus her and her husband’s line did not come to an end. Through her sacrifice and generosity, which she showed because he was a man of God, she and her family received new life. She was blessed because of her hospitality. This is the story we read in today’s first reading. Elisha was the prophet. Unfortunately we do not know her name.
In the Gospel reading from Matthew, we find Jesus insisting on the very fact that “anyone who welcomes you welcomes me”, and adding that “those who welcome me welcome the one who sent me.” These are very significant words indeed. He is reminding us that when we serve others, especially those who are serving the Lord, we are serving the Lord himself. Hospitality to others is hospitality to Our Lord himself. To note, He does have the habit of hiding in the people one would least expect.
“If anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.” (Mt 10:42)
Hospitality comes in various shades and degrees. A hospitality that expects payment or something else in return is fair enough by human standards. It is the transaction of business. This is what the hospitality business is all about.
But true hospitality for the sake of the kingdom of God is something different. It is the attitude of a true welcome, done not for the sake of receiving something in return, but for the sake of God’s love and generosity. If I truly see the face of Jesus in the one who is asking for my hospitality and generosity, then I know that what I am doing, I am doing for and to Jesus himself.
It is God himself who will repay. In another part of the gospel we find Jesus telling us that the reward will be a 100 times over. And mind you, it is not for the sake of receiving a 100 times over that we need to be generous. It is for the sake of being generous to the little ones (not necessarily in size or age), the disciples of the Lord. We become the instruments by which He would be serving His little ones, His disciples. So, a glass of water, a sandwich, a good word, a smile, a helping hand, and many other ways of showing care, if they are done genuinely and with love, are all acts of love coming from the Lord himself, who invites us to work hand in hand with Him.
St. Benedict, born in 480 AD, is one of Christianity’ great saints. By the time he died in 543 AD, he had established numerous monasteries and centres of spirituality. Hospitality is one of the cornerstones of Benedictine spirituality, and it is based on seeing Christ in the guest, just as he is seen in the monks. In the Rule of St. Benedict, a pattern of life that the monks were expected to adhere to in the monastery, Benedict dedicated a whole chapter to the reception of guests. Benedict recalled that Christ told his disciples that their service and disservice to others would also be directed at him, and therefore “Let all guests who arrive (at the monastery) be received as Christ, because He will say: ‘I was a stranger and you took Me in’ (Mt 25:35). Let due honour be shown to all… (including) wayfarers.” In a Benedictine monastery, a separate kitchen and two brother monks were devoted to serve guests, even if it meant they had to skip prayers to attend to their guests.
We too are called to be hospitable. There are so many ways in which we can practice Christian hospitality, which in a way is synonymous with Christian charity. We need not think big. It can be…
- as simple as making a sandwich or some cookies for a homeless person;
- helping at a food kitchen, homeless shelter, or halfway house.
- welcoming into your home a scared young mother or foster child, who needs some stability and a safe place to stay.
Through these, and many other acts of charity, we are not just loving the persons involved; we are loving Christ.
Jesus instructs his closest disciples that following him is no easy matter. It means being ready to give preference to him, over many other things, opportunities, and people in their and our lives. In the gospel we have read, written in an age when the greatest asset a person had was his or her family, He describes as “not worthy of me”, those who prefer mother or father, son or daughter to him. These words may be disconcerting. But they should not be, because truly loving Jesus also means loving parents, children, brothers, sisters, friends and all neighbours.
Jesus continues to say that those who are worthy of him will take up their cross and follow him, who is carrying his own cross. Jesus does not dump his cross upon us. He is not paternalistic, either. He invites us to carry our cross and follow him.
Thinking about it… we admire those people who care for others, who are willing to give of themselves, make sacrifices, miss out on many pleasures, and dedicate their whole life, for the sake of the ones they love. They do it for love. God will never forget such love, and when the time comes, He will repay, in His own way, with greater love.