Matthew 10:37-42, 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
There was once a monastery which was dying as it only had five monks left. Despairing over the eventual demise of his monastery, the Abbot went to see a wise Rabbi who lived nearby for advice. The Rabbi welcomed the Abbot in his little hut. The two wise men sat down, talking about their scriptures, their faiths. As the Abbot stood up to leave he said, ‘It has been a wonderful visit, but I have failed in my purpose. Is there nothing you can tell me to save my dying order?’ ‘All I can say’, said the Rabbi, ‘is that the Messiah is among you’.
As the Abbot returned to the monastery he repeated those enigmatic words to his brother monks and they strove to understand what it was that he meant. As they did so, they began to wonder who among them was the Messiah: Could it be one of the elder friars, though some of them get easily upset? Or could it be one of the younger friars? Could it be me? Surely it could not be me!
As they reflected in this manner they began to treat each other with extraordinary respect. When people came to the monastery, they were greeted with amazing hospitality. More people came to visit them. Eventually young men asked to join the monastery, one after another. Within a few years, the monastery became a thriving order.
Just like the story, our readings today invite us to consider how our lives, our world, would be different if we believed that the Messiah is among us, that God is in the stranger that we meet. Consider, our first reading today: a Shunammite woman recognises holiness in the stranger that passes through her town, giving him lodging and nourishment for his journey. The stranger is none other than the prophet Elisha. He blesses this wealthy woman with the one thing that she does not have, a son. We remember that our scriptures rehearse this encounter with strangers a number of times: there is Sarah’s encounter with three angels in Genesis, this particular story in the book of Kings and of course the visitation of Mary by the angel Gabriel. In each encounter, there is a decision to be made: to reject the stranger with hostility or to receive them with hospitality. Hospitality to the stranger results each time with a miraculous birth of a son to barren and virgin women alike.
This is then the challenge of our readings: our faith truly depends on whether we receive the stranger with hostility or hospitality. Our Christian way challenges us to receive the stranger with hospitality. How different is our way from the clamouring voices in our world today; politicians wanting to build walls that separate nations, others who massacre the poor and anyone associated with crime with impunity, people who want to stop migrants and refugees from crossing our borders! I find it often shocking that the same paranoia is often repeated by Christians.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus presents us with a theological reason for our Christian way of hospitality. Jesus says: Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me; and those who welcome me welcome the one who sent me. We are to receive the stranger with hospitality because of this: as we welcome the stranger, we welcome Christ. If you want to see Christ, go to the street corners where the homeless sleep, go to the plantations where our migrants work, go where the stranger is left lonely and welcome them into your heart. Christ is the stranger in the homeless, the migrant, the lonely.
All this sounds so ideal, does it not? Our world is made increasingly complex by the threat of violence often done in the name of religion. Not all strangers who knock on our doors disclose the divine. Some strangers wish us harm indeed. Consequently our Christian hospitality requires discernment and practical thinking about how to welcome the stranger with hospitality. How we respond to the stranger who knocks on our doors is a difficult issue, requiring careful deliberations on the economic, ecological and political implications of such a decision. Questions which we can’t hope to resolve here but which we must continue to reflect on in the light of our faith. However, what I would like to leave you with this question:
What if God dwelt as a stranger in our homes, in our workplaces, in our schools? How different would we treat one another?
Image from the Internet