The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. -Genesis 18:1
The short little passage we have from Genesis this Sunday is about the “Lord” appearing to Abraham in the form of three men. Abraham is sitting by the door of his tent, and as soon as they show up, Abraham rushes to welcome them, even though it seems he has never met them before. He says to them, "My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on-- since you have come to your servant." Abraham asks Sarah to make some bread of their finest flour. He has a servant prepare a tender calf. He took curds and milk and the meat and bread that had been prepared and sets them before the men in the shade of a tree. Abraham stands by the men as they eat the meal he’s had prepared.
In short, Abraham really goes out of his way to show these three men warm and generous hospitality. This passage is one of the foundational passages that inspires the traditional practice of Christian hospitality. Another is from the letter to the Hebrews, which says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels unawares.”
St. Benedict was a key figure in promoting the practice of Christian hospitality in the 16th century. Referring to this passage in Genesis, he instructed his monks to welcome every visitor to the monastery as Christ, no matter who they were. There were a number of scruffy beggars and suspicious characters who were given a solid meal and a clean bed in Nursia just for showing up at the monastery door.
A colorful description of Christian hospitality is drawn by Victor Hugo in his novel “Les Miserables.” Bishop Bienvenu (“Bishop Welcome”) is a saintly example, who not only feeds and houses the fugitive Jean Valjean, but gives Valjean his own prized silver candlesticks as he leaves.
I was talking to someone recently about how the definition of a good neighbor has changed over the past few decades. A good neighbor used to be someone that brought you a cake when you moved in, offered to watch your kids, invited you to dinner at their home and gathered the neighborhood together for block parties or barbeques. These days, a good neighbor is someone who is quiet and leaves you alone.
What does Christian hospitality look like in this current and isolated environment we live in? How are we missing encounters with God by not being ready at the doors of our tents to welcome the stranger in? This also sheds light on the terribly poor hospitality we are showing to those who are coming to our borders. How are we offending God by treating strangers in this way?
Our readings for this Sunday are HERE. Note that in Ordinary Time we are using the readings from “Track 2.”