Like many of you, I have been in and out of hotels, motels and conference centers over the years. In every place I’ve stayed, the staff has made a point of seeing to my comfort. I know this because they told me so. Hospitality is a commodity that can be bought. We simply don’t go back to a city, hotel or restaurant that has not been hospitable.
But hospitality is more than a business or an impulsive kindness to strangers . It’s an important ingredient in the character of people who share what they have. Some families are more hospitable than others. In 1936, my Dad took his parents to Batavia to visit friends, but they got lost on the country roads. My grandfather recognized a name on a mailbox. “Stop here, Connie.” Grandpa said. “ I know these people and they will tell us where our friends live.” The house where they stopped for directions belonged to a couple who certainly did know where the sought- for people lived. When they were pulling out , the woman of the house said to my grandparents: “ When you’ve visited, come back here for a meal, because they won’t feed you!” Of course they weren’t fed, and hungry, they made their way back to the kind people who had given them directions. Connie met the daughter of the house. My mother! It never would have happened if Connie and his folks hadn’t stopped for directions and Celia’s parents hadn’t been hospitable.
Hospitality to immigrants who stand at our borders is being thwarted by our government, which has no living memory of our being an immigrant nation. This call to hospitality is among the pivotal issues of our day and nation. Some of us choose to whom we will be hospitable by race, education, class.
For the ancients we meet in Scripture, hospitality was a cherished law. The stranger as well as the invited guest was welcomed into a household in ritual ways… dirty, tired feet washed and food generously shared. We see this ritual acted out in Genesis today, when Abraham and Sara, long advanced in years, provided shelter, food and drink to three strangers – in reality messengers from God.
The return gift from the strangers was the fulfillment of a promise made to Abraham many years before. He and Sara would have a son within a year. From Abraham and Sara, you and I learn that each time we are hospitable to others , we create with God a new being, a new insight, a new connectedness.
Next weekend, by contrast, we’ll hear another story from Genesis wherein God is angry at the unwillingness of Sodom to be hospitable to strangers who come God ‘s name. Prudence holds up a caution sign when the stranger, a family member at the door masks the demonic in the world.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus does not chide Martha for her hospitality but rather for her anxiety. Anxious people cannot be open and Jesus knows this. In naming her anxiousness, Jesus releases her from it.
Once we become clear that hospitality - openness to the other in the name of God – is core to our lives, then we recognize that we, too, are guests in God’s world, bound together – intertwined by the mystery of God’s own hospitality to us all.
As the summer goes on, let us each be as hospitable as possible in God’s name. May we also welcome the hospitality of people and the world as God’s gift to us.
~Sister Joan Sobala