Central Idea: The call to hospitality calls us to be people of faith willing to live out our baptism.
The world is a dangerous, fearful place.
I saw a post from one of my former students whose wedding I did many years ago. She lives in Canada and was bemoaning the fact that her, her husband and her children cannot at present visit the US because of the Covid -19 virus. Four months ago it was a simple trip, now it is impossible. Closer to home, I was hoping to visit a patient in the hospital and was told by a nurse working there that I would not be able to, unless that person was near death. One of my huge frustrations over the past three months is being unable to see people unless they are at the brink. Add to the mix the normal things that people can be fearful about and you have a recipe for crippling anxiety.
And yet, the focus of our Scriptures today flies in the face of this fear, it calls us to something that seems downright reckless in this day and age: hospitality. Time and time again we hear stories of some poor person who takes care of someone else only to come to a bad end. In the past three months, I have seen more Judge Judy episodes than I care to acknowledge. Her cases always begin with someone being nice to someone else, extending the hand of hospitality and having it get bit (and sometimes chewed on). Opening your heart, opening your wallet, opening your home, has been, is and will be a dangerous and risky proposition.
And yet our readings today talk about the blessing afforded those who are willing to be hospitable, the childless woman who takes in Elisha the prophet, the disciple of Jesus willing to give aid to those in need. How do we put these two ideas together? How do we remain hospitable in a dangerous world?
Hospitality does not mean that we surrender our common sense. We can be people of hospitality AND be careful at the same time. Granted there is an aspect of hospitality that will always involve a bit of risk, but that risk can be a measured one. We have all heard the stories of a “relative” calling from a faraway place needing help. It may be helpful to check on the truth of that before you write a check. And I am sorry, Nigerian prince, you will have to find someone else to get that million dollars out of that bank account. When I have people who come to the rectory door seeking assistance, I do not do stupid things, but I still try to be hospitable, I hope to listen. Is it possible that I could be conned? Of course. Is it possible that I could be conned out of a lot of money? Well…
One of my favorite stories when I was at Neier was a man from Owensville got kicked out of his home by his wife. He was literally living “down by the river” when he came seeking my help. I listened to his tale of woe – he had issues – and so I decided to help him and set him up with an apartment for a month. (An apartment in Owensville is a little more affordable than one in Webster.) Six months later, at 6 am on a Sunday, my doorbell rings and it’s the same guy. “Could you help me out, Father Kevin?” “Aren’t you living in Owensville?” “Yeah.” “The last time I checked there was a perfectly good Catholic church in Owensville.” “Yes, but the priest isn’t as nice as you, Father Kevin.”
I cannot quote you exactly what I told the man, we are in church, but he discovered that there was a definite limit to Father Kevin’s beneficence.
Hospitality, nevertheless, does go against our culture, because it will always be risky. But it is worth the risk. I have been amazed over the past twelve months, the way all of you have extended your hospitality to me. That has been a great blessing in my life and I appreciate it greatly.
Hospitality is a sacred act. Continually in the Scriptures we hear story after story about angels who appear in human form and when they are welcomed, there is blessing and when they are not. . . Jesus tells us in our gospel this morning that whoever welcomes a disciple welcomes him and, ultimately, God. Hospitality is more than just being nice, it is recognizing God in our midst. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers. . .”
Hospitality can create in us a new fountain of life, a new source of blessing. Indeed hospitality creates in us a fountain of youth. There is a wonderful poem that reminds us of how this happens
Youth is not a time of life. . .it is a state of mind.
Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years;
people grow old only by deserting their ideals.
Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.
Worry, doubt, self-distrust, fear and despair. . .
these are the long, long years that bow the head
and turn the growing spirit back to dust.
Whether seventy or sixteen, there is in every being’s heart the love of wonder,
the sweet amazement at the stars
and the starlike things and thoughts,
the undaunted challenge of events,
the unfailing childlike appetite for what’s next,
and the joy of the game of life.
You are as young as your faith,
as old as your doubt,
as young as your self-confidence,
as old as your fear;
as young as your hope,
as old as your despair.
Yes, the world is a dangerous place, but we who call ourselves Christian must make it our aim to make it a more hospitable place and in doing so, welcome God in our midst.