SUNDAY REFLECTION: THE REWARD FOR HOSPITALITY

THE
REWARD FOR HOSPITALITY
Hospitality
is regarded by most nations of the ancient world as one of the chief virtues.
The relationship between host and guest was SACRED. Of course, this is still
true today in most Middle Eastern, South American, Native American, African and
Asian cultures. I’ve had various experiences of the
Biblical practice of hospitality. I vividly recall the experiences I had during
a 6-week apostolic work in Ugwagba-Obosi, Onitsha archdiocese, and in NCAM Ilorin
diocese in 2010 & 2011 respectively. During these periods, some families volunteered
to accommodate me, even without having a prior knowledge of me. I was treated
like a person from a royal backdrop and this created a lasting impression on
me. The experiences I had were more powerful than any sermon or teaching I’d
had in years!  I felt loved, honored, special,
valued, welcomed, and a part of their family; such that when it was time to
terminate my program, they felt I should remain with them and not leave. I remember
vividly the “touching” farewell speech presented by one of the little children
(Kate) during the send-off ceremony at Ilorin… The real practice of hospitality
makes people feel they belong. It makes people feel special, important, and warmly
welcomed into your life – not just your home! It’s receiving strangers like
they are family, and communicating through your words and actions that they are
well worth your time and effort. A welcome goes
beyond words; it creates a feeling of care and gives a sense of pleasure.
The lesson
of the experiences I had, as highlighted above (hospitality) is not
disconnected from the message of today’s readings. In today’s readings the
theme that readily comes to mind is that of hospitality; hospitality in the
sense of personal presence, an openness of heart that allows guests into the
inner home of our hearts and souls. I have come to recognize that the
way we treat others is the way we treat God. This
is exactly what we see in the First reading (Gen. 18:1-10A). It was
because of his persisting faith that Abraham in his hospitality was able to
perceive the presence of God in the three strange men who suddenly appeared in
his life. Christians are able to see in them a veiled foreshadowing of the
Trinitarian God, the God who said let us make man in our image and likeness.
The reward for Abraham’s hospitality is what we see at the end of the encounter:
 “I will surely return to you
about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.” Indeed, “great
things happen when God mixes with men”. Hence, anyone who welcomes another for
the sake of God shall never go unrewarded. We see other instances in the Old
Testament: The Shunamite woman giving Elisha his own room and provided for him
out of her poverty, and she was heavily rewarded. We also see Lot offering
hospitality to the visiting angels sent to Sodom, and his life was spared
during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. We also see the hospitality of Jethro
towards Moses, etc.
Still
in the same stream of hospitality, in the Gospel reading (Lk. 10:38-42), we are
told that Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. It
is apposite to remember that Christ once said that he has nowhere to lay his
head (cf. Lk. 9:58). Thus, in the need to carry out his missionary activity
(traveling from place to place and spreading the Good News), a godly woman
(Martha) received him and showed hospitality. While Martha was busy with the
need to serve her guest (Jesus), Mary her sister on the other hand, chose the
better part by sitting at his feet and listening to him. What a great spirit of
hospitality! In John chapter 11, we see the reward for this great hospitality
shown to Christ. Simply put, Christ raised Lazarus (the brother of Mary and
Martha) back to life, thus, wiping away the tears and sorrow caused by the death
from the family.
I dare
to reiterate what I said earlier: “anyone who welcomes another for the sake of
God shall never go unrewarded”. The reward could either be in this life or in
eternal life or both. In this vein, the Responsorial psalm (Ps. 15) gives a
strong proof to the veracity of this claim. It says: “He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord…One who does
not harm his fellowman, and casts no slur on his neighbour…One who walks
without fault…” in the end, it says: “such a man will stand firm forever”.
What has the Second
reading to say with regards to the call to hospitality
? The Second reading from the letter of St.
Paul to the Colossians (1:24-28) drives home a practical message to us all. It should be noted that St.
Paul and his coworker Timothy wrote this letter to the Church at Colossae (this
we see in Chapter 1:1), a small city in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Paul had
not visited Colossae, but had received reports from Epaphras, the missionary
who most likely founded the Church there. Paul speaks positively of the
Colossian Christians’ faith, love, and hope (1:4-5) and acknowledges that the
Good News is bearing fruit and growing in them (1:6). Consequently, as we see
in today’s reading, Paul addresses them on the sufferings he passed through for
their sake as God’s steward in order to
bring to completion the word of God to them and the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past (this
expresses the missionary life of Paul in spreading the Good News and
consequently passing through hardships). On this note, it is apposite to
say that we are familiar with that kind of purposeful suffering. Through the
centuries, Christian missionaries have risked their lives to take the Gospel to
primitive parts of the world––and are still doing so today. We admire their
willingness to make sacrifices for a great cause (just as Christ did, traveling
from place to place, as we see in today’s gospel, likewise Paul). These people
actually leave their families behind and travel to distant isles and remote
villages; passing through hardships, sufferings, lacking the amenities of
lives; just as Paul pointed out, all for the sake of the Gospel. The question
is: How many times have we noticed these missionaries among us? How have we treated them? Have we been hospitable enough to them? Do we see ourselves as people who must
only benefit from them? Or do we
also see the need for them to benefit from us through our hospitality? 
Dearest friends, the cry for hospitality is still ringing in our present
day society. It is so unfortunate that our Western
emphasis on individuality and independence has drastically diminished our
understanding and the practice of this great and powerful virtue of
hospitality.
The critical question you and I must face is how
welcoming are we to God in the persons of our fellowmen? How conscious are we
of His presence in our lives? Do we feel too busy to pay attention to the needs
of the people around us? How hospitable have we been to the poor who knock at
our doors, begging for their “daily bread”? How we treat others is an indicator
of how we treat God. You and I should be challenged by these questions.
May the good Lord continue to reward us for the many
times we have been hospitable and sensitive to the needs of those around us. Amen.

Happy Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.

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