Both the Old Testament and Gospel reading this week speak of welcoming guests into one’s home. One of the most ancient Judeo-Christian traditions tells us that God “executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the resident alien, giving them food and clothing. So, you too must befriend the alien” (Dt. 10:18-19). In the first reading, Abraham sees the three strangers walking by and invites them to stay and rest awhile. In the Gospel, Jesus visits the home of his friends, Martha and Mary.
At one time or another, all of us have received others into our homes as guests. Part of this reception usually entails an extensive preparation of a meal in honor of the visitors. Abraham had his servants and Sarah provide a lavish feast for the strangers. Martha and Mary wanted everything to be just right for their friend and his disciples when these people came to their home. Such hospitality is so commonplace that we can forget its true significance. When we invite and serve others, we are doing the work of God who always invites and serves. In God’s eyes, we are the alien who needs to be welcomed into his kingdom, just as we bring others into the private space of our home, so God brings us into his home.
Entertaining guests means that we put our whole attention on the well-being and comfort of the guests. In the case of Abraham, he invites the unknown travelers into his tent out of the sun and into the shade of the tent. In the case of Martha and Mary, they knew Jesus as a friend, but they also wanted to make their visitors comfortable. Martha gets a little sidetracked by all the work and preparation and Jesus gently calls her back to the real significance of inviting another into one’s home. He gives her a gentle reprimand, pointing out that the comfort of the guest is central, not the preparation of an elaborate feast.
These two readings give us an opportunity to reflect on the manner in which we welcome people into our own lives. If we know them, their arrival in our home is a joy for us, for their presence shows us that they, too, value our friendship. It is more difficult, as Abraham does, to welcome a stranger, but that, too, brings a gift of new companionship.
These domestic scenes of friendship and welcoming strangers can encourage us to think in more universal terms. Many people come to us in need as strangers, migrants or refugees. We might ask ourselves a few questions. Am I willing to act as Abraham did and welcome aliens, foreigners and strangers into my life? Am I willing to undertake new efforts of hospitality for anyone who calls for help, even if that person is a widow, an orphan or an alien?
When we welcome another, we invite God into our lives. Sometimes the other is a friend. Sometimes the other is a stranger. Always, the other is a manifestation of the Lord.
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.