“Abraham looked up, and there he saw three men standing before him. As soon as he saw them he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them. ‘My lord,’ he said, ‘I beg you, if I find favour with you, kindly do not pass your servant by.’”
The account of Abraham’s encounter with unexpected strangers at the entrance of his tent provides a delightful reflection on the virtue of hospitality. This unexpected visit came to an ageing Abraham preoccupied with the future. The Lord had promised Abraham a son through his wife Sarah, a promise that remained unfulfilled.
Despite the uncertainties that clouded his mind, Abraham refused to be diverted from the present moment. Strangers, seeking sustenance, had presented themselves to Abraham. He seized the moment and responded to them with lavish generosity. In welcoming and answering strangers he had welcomed his God, and in so doing received the reassurance for which he had longed: “I will visit you again next year without fail and your wife will then have a son.”
The story speaks to us on many levels. At the very least it reminds us that we can never allow worry and preoccupation to blind us to the present moment. It is at such moments, in spontaneous prayer, or in the needs of those who fill our days, that the Lord comes to us. “Come, you whom my Father has blessed, because I was hungry and you gave me food, I was a stranger and you made me welcome.”
The account of the Lord’s visit to the house of Martha and Mary provides further reflection on the virtue of hospitality. Jesus was welcomed into this house, but while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, Martha was preoccupied with hospitality’s practicalities. “Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me.”
Her complaint must be familiar in every household whose members include those who are always ready to enjoy the occasion with little thought for those whose labours made it possible. The response of Jesus reminds us that true hospitality is measured not so much in our labours as in the generosity of our hearts: “Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part.”
The most precious thing that we give to the Lord, and to the stranger at the door, is the generous surrender of ourselves to their presence.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.