THE REWARD FOR HOSPITALITY
(By this time next year, you will have a child)
The term “hospitality” etymologically springs from the Latin “hospes”, meaning “host”, “guest”, or “stranger”. Put differently, “hospes” is formed from “hostis”, which means “stranger” or “enemy”. Consequently, we can define hospitality as the relationship between a guest and a host, wherein the host receives the guest with goodwill, including the reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. 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 Onitsha Archdiocese and Ilorin Diocese around 2010 and 2011 respectively. The experiences I had were more powerful than any sermon or teaching I’d had in years! I felt loved, honoured, 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. 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. The real practice of hospitality makes people feel they belong, 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. In fact, hospitality has an intrinsic link with charity, such that without charity, it ceases to be hospitality.
Dear friends in Christ, reflecting upon Today’s Readings, the theme of hospitality readily comes to mind. 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 (2 KGS 4:8-11, 14-16A). It was because of the persisting faith of the Shunamite woman who made available a room for Elisha the prophet, and provided for him out of her poverty, that she was greatly rewarded. The reward for her hospitality is what we see at the end of the encounter: “This time next year you will hold a son in your arms”. Indeed, 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 the Gospel (MT 10:37-42), Christ spells out once again the reward for hospitality. He said: “Whoever receives you receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives the One who sent Me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple— amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” This is a solemn promise from the Lord, and we are called to rejoice in it always, just as we see from the psalmist of the day (PS 89:2-3, 16-17, 18-19): “The promises of the Lord I will sing forever, through all generations, my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness. For you have said, My kindness is established forever; in heaven, you have confirmed your faithfulness”. Indeed, “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord”.
Still in the same stream of hospitality, Paul in the Second Reading (ROM 6:3-4, 8-11) drives home his message to the ecclesiastical community of Rome. He makes us realize our position as disciples (followers) of Christ. “By virtue of our baptism, we were buried with Christ and shall equally be raised with Christ”. Therefore, as baptized Christians (followers of Christ), we are to bear in mind that our good works, and in this sense – hospitality should be channelled out to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and by extension to everyone in need; for “whatsoever you do to the least of my ‘brothers/sisters’, you do unto me” (Mt. 25:40)
Dearest friends, the cry for hospitality/charity is still ringing in our present day society. How many times have we encountered the presence of God in others and act charitably towards them? 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. In addition, how many times have we noticed 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? You and I should be challenged by these questions. 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.
Indeed, anyone who welcomes another for the sake of God shall never go unrewarded. 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 13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME