Ordinary 16th Sunday – HOSPITAL/ITY HEALS
Ordinary 16th Sunday
Gen. 18: 1-10 Col. 1: 24-28 Lk. 10: 38-42
True hospitality can be an avenue of manifold blessings for both – the one who offers it and the one who receives it.
According to a Greek legend, Jupiter and his son Mercury, both of them gods, disguising themselves as weary travellers, visited the earth, knocked at many doors and sought some food and stay. Many ignored them, shut their doors at their face and turned them back. Finally, a poor and old couple, Philmen and Baucia by name, welcomed them. They prepared a meal and served it along with a pitcher of wine. When the tired travellers began to relax themselves with what was set before them, Philmen and Baucia were stunned and surprised to see that the pitcher of wine never got emptied. The more the travellers drank, the more it was full. It was at this point the travellers revealed their true identity.
We, human beings, are basically relational beings. It is relationship that gives meaning to our lives and that makes our life worth-living. Taking relationship out of our lives is like taking breath out of our body. One of the very important ways how this relational nature is nurtured is through hospitality. Thirukkural, a classical literary piece in Tamil, speaks of the importance of hospitality in family life. One verse says: ‘A person, who has graciously entertained his guests and eagerly waits for many more guests, will enjoy, after death, the hospitality of gods.’ Another poem says, “One, who is good at hospitality, will never run into poverty.”
The readings, besides underscoring the importance of hospitality in our lives, speak of right type of hospitality and also enumerate the benefits of hospitality.
Hospitality: Right Approach:
It is true that hospitality involves treating our guests with the best of materials we have – welcoming them cheerfully, providing them a comfortable stay, treating them with nice dinner etc.. We see Abraham preparing a meal for his guests by killing a tender and good calf. Martha was very busy preparing probably a sumptuous dinner for Jesus. Though it is a very important aspect of hospitality, and in no way a less essential one, one should not limit hospitality with the provision of stay and food. Hospitality should be seen in the greater context of relationship. More than the sharing of food and material things, what is more important is the sharing of one’s emotions, feelings, ideas etc..
Luke writes that the event of Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary took place just before his entry into Jerusalem. Naturally his mind would have been troubled, preoccupied and perplexed about what was to take place in Jerusalem – his suffering, crucifixion etc.. At that juncture what Jesus needed was not a sumptuous dinner, but pouring out of his inner turmoil – his temptation to flee away, his struggle to fulfil the will of the Father etc.. More than a well-prepared meal, Jesus needed to pour out himself to someone. Mary seems to have understood Jesus’ disposition better,
A novice in English welcomed his guest in this way: “We are ready to welcome you to our place. It is our pleasure to hospitalize you.” (What he intended to say was ‘It is our pleasure to extend hospitality to you.’) Though it looks like a joke, it has got a deeper layer of meaning. The English word ‘hospitality’ comes from the Latin word hospes. From this word comes another English word, ‘hospital’. Both these renderings from the same root-word reveal to us that both hospitality and hospital offer us healing. In a way, we can say that Mary’s involved listening would have served as a soothing balm to the perplexed heart of Jesus. It is worth to note the words of St. Avila of Teresa, “To give our Lord a perfect hospitality, Mary and Martha must combine.” It is to say that true hospitality involves sharing of meals and emotions as well.
It is unfortunate that quite often we try to reduce our hospitality to eating and drinking together. This point is all the more relevant now, when plenty of ‘get-togethers’ and ‘parties’ take place where costly dinners are offered, but not much of sharing things which are of personal importance. People come together, eat and go away. We seem to satisfy our inner urge for sharing of our deeper self with a peripheral sharing of food. If at all people share among themselves, it is more about the third persons or about economical aspects of life, and not much about what is going on within themselves.
Hospitality: Its Benefits:
Though apparently, it looks like that hospitality helps the one who receives it, in reality it helps more the one who offers it.
-In the first reading, there is no much of clarity with regard to the identity of the persons who visited Abraham. On the one hand, it is said that they were three men (vs.2). However, the last part of the first reading tells us that it was God who visited Abraham, who enjoyed the hospitality of Abraham (vs. 13). The message seems to be when we extend hospitality to human beings, we extend it to God Himself.
-Abraham, by offering hospitality to the strangers, received blessings himself. He was assured of his progeny. In the above Greek story, it is said that the gods who enjoyed the hospitality of the old couple, told them to ask for a wish which would by all means be fulfilled. The couple asked, “We love each other and have lived together for long. We want to die together so that no one grieves the absence of the other.” And the wish was granted. By offering hospitality, we create space for manifold blessings in our lives.
-In hospitality, we not only welcome and entertain others we also nurture God within us. St. Paul, in the second reading, talks about the divine mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed. The mystery is nothing but “Christ in you.” The same Christ who is in others is also within us. When we nurture others, and thus God in them, we simultaneously nurture God within us. And thus hospitality helps us to grow into a greater personal and spiritual maturity.