Red carpets, open doors, tables set, warm handshakes are a bye word for hospitality. Everyone I suppose would like to themselves as hospitable, a good host, courteous, warm, thoughtful and sincere.
The very word hospitality is such an important word in any language, it covers how we treat guests who come to our home. It can the word we use that says how we deal with strangers who come to our country – we are their host and they are a guest. It’s the way a host receives a guest with goodwill, but there is also an expectation upon the person who is a guest that they don’t take for granted or advantage the hospitality of their host. There are laws that govern hospitality.
Hospitality could be a word that seems old fashioned and yet on the other hand is very modern and relevant and timeless. It can be a measure of our openness, our kindness, our generosity, the fact we know how to behave properly. It is such a relevant word for the world today.
There are things that you wouldn’t do. No one would invite a guest into their house and not speak to them. No one would invite a guest into their house and neglect them. No one would invite a person as guest to their home and take advantage of them. A guest would not cross certain boundaries or would at the very least seem to be forward, unmannered, uncultured, not know how to behave.
Most cultures and most religions have rules about a host receiving their guest with courtesy and manners, making them welcome, treating them well. Most cultures also have rules about how gests should behave. The Jewish old testament is full of references to people being received well. Infact today at Mass we hear how the prophet is received well, first with food and then a place is prepared for him when he visits. In the new testament we hear often that Jesus is a guest at table, where he makes points about table etiquette – where people sit or don’t sit, how people should be welcomed at table or in a house. We hear of him at the last supper, at Simon’s house, at Bethany in the house of Martha Mary and Lazarus.
In ordinary terms, so important a principle is hospitality, that if someone should offend against this principle it is regarded to be very serious and very offensive. A bogus caller for instance who come into a home for a deceitful purpose is regarded as a person without morals, they take advantage of a person’s hospitality. A person who doesn’t respect a person’s home when they are a guest, breaks a sacred bond between host and guest and are likely to at best frowned upon or at worst be evicted.
All of this is the backdrop of the Gospel reading which is all about how you receive the word of God and the message of the Gospel – we are the host the Word of God has come to visit us.
Just as we might know how to be hospitable. So we are called to receive the message like a valued and special guest that comes to our home with warmth, with openness, with eagerness, with enthusiasm, with attentiveness, with great courtesy.
God has chosen to visit us. God has chosen to be with us. God has entered our lives, pierced our heart, come among us.
The law of hospitality tells us to open our door to our guest, to invite them in, to sit them down, to welcome them, to make them at home. So we are invited to do the same to God and his word and his presence.
A guest might know when they are not welcome. A guest might know when we are going through the motions. A guest would know when we are looking at our watch counting the time before we are going.
God knows how welcome he is among us. He knows what genuine warmth is. He knows when we have a place for him. He knows when we are listening.
He promises to the person who welcomes him a prophet’s reward a holy man’s gift. A blessing from on high. What form that will take who knows. But what we do know is that it is a gracious gift that even comes into our hearts, our homes and lives among us.