Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Genesis 18:1-10a
Colossians 1:24-28
Luke 10:38-42

Welcome and hospitality are art forms. On a scale, most of us fall somewhere between Martha Stewart and the person who has the pizza place listed on the speed dial. We might shrug off the matter of hospitality as an unimportant detail in life except that there appears to be a theology of hospitality at work in Scripture. Prime examples of this theology are found in the narratives of two dinner parties: one by the oaks of Mamre and the other in the village of Bethany. In the first story, Abraham and Sarah spontaneously entertain strangers who appear suddenly during their afternoon nap.

In the first reading, the prophet Elisha cares for the people in the name of the Lord. The story begins on an ordinary day when three strangers show up at Abraham and Sarah’s home in the heat of the day and they are welcomed. Their hot, dusty feet are washed and they are offered a place in the shade to rest, food to eat and something refreshing to drink.  Abraham and Sarah obviously understand Eastern hospitality.

In the Gospel, Martha and Mary appear to be offering different sorts of hospitality from one another. Martha behaved in the traditional Eastern way serving the Lord in much the way Abraham and Sara entertained the strangers. Mary, on the other hand, sat beside the Lord and listened to him. It wouldn’t surprise most of us that Martha complained. She saw hospitality in much the way most of us do.

But, there are different kinds of hospitality. There is the generosity which overflows from a sense of abundance — the generosity of God himself in creating the universe.  

Then there is the hospitality born of poverty of spirit: when our own suffering teaches us greater compassion for the suffering of others, and we learn to share in the spirit of Christ who emptied himself on the cross.

And thirdly, there is the hospitality which is built into our shared humanity, which welcomes the stranger for no other reason than this is what is required because someone has traveled to where we are.

In our own society, need may be as much psychological as physical, but our human duty is no less pressing. And when we practice it we express the truth of hospitality: God and man working together, offering to God, through our hospitality, God’s own gifts to us.
The purpose of Christian hospitality is to prepare a welcoming space for encounters with God’s word. It’s not that God’s word cannot be heard in barren, inhospitable places or circumstances. God is not so limited, but we are. God can speak in any situation, but we, frail creatures, cannot always hear. The Bible tells us about the struggle of the Hebrews in the wilderness where they were so preoccupied with the lack of creature comforts that they constantly complained against God and Moses. To keep their attention, to keep them moving, to keep them faithful, God often found himself preparing dinners of manna and quail. Only then, when fed, could they hear the word. So it is with us.

Faith communities are rediscovering the theology of hospitality and it is highly related to all of our ministries. We no longer lukewarmly welcome visitors, but enthusiastically expect them. Instead of simply trying to fit them in, we need to plan for the stranger.