Welcome strangers with compassion

Both the reading from Genesis and the Gospel this week present stories of hospitality. In Genesis, Abraham meets three travelers and invites them to stay with him. In the Gospel, Martha and Mary invite Jesus and his disciples for dinner. Comparing these two accounts provides us with an opportunity to reflect on hospitality.

Beginning with the Gospel account, it looks like a rather commonplace invitation of friends welcoming friends. Martha is concerned that everything be perfect for their friend, Jesus. Mary, however, focuses all her attention on the teacher. When Martha complains to Jesus about the disparity between her efforts and Mary’s apparent unconcern for preparations, she receives a gentle rebuke from Jesus. It is not that Jesus is unappreciative of her efforts but rather that she has forgotten the guests who are the purpose of all her efforts.

When we view the manner in which Abraham treats the three strangers we find a quite different atmosphere. Abraham, during all the preparations, manifests careful attention for their well-being. He slaughters one of his flock. He prepares the meal with care. Finally, he waits on them as they eat their meal. All of this attention brings a great reward to Abraham and Sarah. They will have a son by the next time the strangers return in a year, fulfilling one of their dreams.

Each story of hospitality shows the deep meaning of welcoming others into our lives. As humans we need to socialize with other human beings. We quite naturally welcome friends and family into our homes because we want to share with them the good things and blessings God has given us. The presence of our dear ones reminds us of the abundance of God’s goodness toward us. The Abraham story, however, brings a twist to hospitality. This new element can be summarized by a simple question. “Do I welcome strangers into my life?” Abraham did not know the three men; they were obviously travelers who had no place to rest. In wonderful Middle Eastern fashion, Abraham makes these strangers the center of his attention.

These stories provide a moral lesson for our present day. We must welcome others if we are going to be fully human. Our usual circle of family and friends provides us with friendship and love, and when we treat strangers with compassion and love as Abraham did, we express our common humanity with all. The stories show us that sometimes hospitality occurs with family and friends. Sometimes we show hospitality to the homeless, the poor, the migrant or the refugee.

Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.