Sometimes the obvious escapes us. It’s as true in the Church as it is in our ordinary, everyday lives. We may need to remind ourselves that when we come to Mass we are the guests of God himself. But do we take our Sunday Mass for granted? Do we properly prepare ourselves: do we allow time to recollect our thoughts and get ready to participate in this supreme act of worship?
We’ve just heard how Our Lord popped in to see his friends Martha and Mary. Perhaps he wanted a little time to himself, away from the crowds, or for a brief rest talking quietly with friends and people he knew. And we can be fairly certain, that Our Lord called at the home of Martha and Mary because he wanted to see them and spend time with them. But Martha wouldn’t let him see her. Instead she started rushing around getting the table and a meal ready. And yet Our Lord made it quite clear that this wasn’t quite the sort of hospitality he wanted at that particular moment.
Now, there were other times when Our Lord did accept the sort of hospitality Martha was offering, occasions when he did accept a meal at someone’s house. But on this occasion he wanted a different sort of hospitality. Mary understood this. Martha didn’t.
Hospitality is worth thinking about because it’s a form of charity and as such it’s something we ought to foster in our lives, and in our community, and in our families. And not only that, Our Lord tells us that our hospitality is one of the things we will be judged on. ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome.’
It’s not difficult to see why Our Lord gives such prominence to hospitality. When we open up our homes or our private space to anyone, whether they are friends or strangers, we are offering them something which is very precious to us and we are inviting them to share it. And so, to be truly hospitable requires a degree of love and self-sacrifice.
We all know the feeling of unease that can be caused in our homes by the unexpected arrival of someone we really don’t want to see; someone who turns up on the doorstep and expects to be entertained. The whole household can be disrupted. And sometimes we can even begin to feel as though we are the strangers in our own home. This is an indication of how much our homes mean to us and what an effort we will sometimes have to make if we are to show hospitality to everyone at all times.
And this is what Our Lord requires of us: ‘I was a stranger and you made me welcome.’ Our Lord expects us to treat everyone as we would treat him; to see his image in the visitor and the stranger, obnoxious and awkward as they may be.
In some ways it’s much easier to see Christ in the stranger than it is in more frequent visitors, in people we know. I think there’s a certain novelty about welcoming a stranger into our home and it can give us a certain feeling of satisfaction. It’s much less glamorous to entertain, say an elderly aunt for a fortnight who’s faddy about her food and always complaining about something. And yet in the long run putting up with the elderly aunt might be a much greater act of charity than accepting the stranger.
And so there can be two different sorts of hospitality: the hospitality we want to give, and the hospitality the visitor needs. Martha and Mary both welcomed Our Lord into their home. Martha wanted to give Our Lord what she thought he ought to have: a nice big meal. Mary welcomes Our Lord with the sort of welcome he wanted on that particular occasion.
It’s very tempting to give people what we think they ought to have. But Christian hospitality demands much more than this. It demands that we should be sensitive to the other person’s needs.
And so when Our Lord comes to our front door, in the person of the visitor or the stranger, let us be sure that we, like Mary, choose the better part.