The virtue of hospitality, properly understood, reaches far beyond conventional courtesy; it is a generosity of heart and spirit always ready to welcome the stranger into its midst. At its very best, hospitality is a communion, the surrender of ourselves to one another.
Such was the hospitality offered by Abraham to the three strangers approaching his tent at the hottest part of the day. Here was hospitality without restraint. Precious water was expended in the washing of their feet. Without counting the cost, a banquet of fresh bread, tender calf, milk and cream was prepared and laid before these strangers.
The scene has been immortalised in Andrei Rublev’s famous icon, depicting the three angels gathered around Abraham’s table. Many have described it as the icon of the Old Testament Trinity. It demonstrates that hospitality, the openness of one to another, is at the very heart of Trinity. It reminds us that our communion with God begins with the surrender of ourselves to the presence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Clearly the full revelation of the Trinity would come only with the New Testament. During this Year of Mercy Abraham’s story is a reminder that hospitality to a stranger is hospitality to God himself. Abraham would be remembered by succeeding generations as the one who, in welcoming the stranger, welcomed God himself. When we become fearful strangers to one another, we risk becoming strangers to God himself.
The theme of hospitality is continued in the visit of Jesus to the home of Martha and Mary. Here Jesus found rest and welcome. The narrative has a charming illustration of the humanity of the household. While Mary sat at the feet of Jesus listening, Martha got on with the practical work of serving. Not surprisingly Martha complained: “Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do all the serving myself?”
The response of Jesus reveals what lies at the heart of our communion with him. It is not to be found in what we do for him, but the humility with which we open ourselves to his presence. “Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.”
We choose the better part with the surrender of ourselves, however imperfect, to the presence of God. In a similar way we reach out to His poor and find communion with them.
This article first appeared in the July 15 2016 issue of The Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here.
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