The Gospel today reminds us once again that we are here to bring about the kingdom, and also tells us how to do just that: When we throw a banquet, rather than inviting those who are likely to reciprocate and treat us to a similar feast, we are challenged to invite those who are suffering. Jesus tells us that we will be greatly rewarded for this act of love.
Hospitality can be defined as the generous and friendly welcome of guests, visitors, or strangers. Hospitality is also a virtue, as it combines generosity, an open heart, service, and a desire to care for others. In the Jewish tradition, hospitality was culturally accepted as the norm. This hospitality could be the difference between life and death for those traveling in extreme climates and hostile areas, therefore, traveling strangers were to be welcomed, nourished, and housed before continuing their journey.
The act of hospitality involves warmly and generously welcoming a guest, known or unknown, into your home and allows the stranger to become a friend. As Henri Nouwen describes it: “Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy…”
In his Letter to Volunteers in 1997, Pope Saint John Paul II wrote: ‘…I recall the passage in the Book of Genesis which tells of Abraham and the three mysterious guests at the oaks of Mamre (Gen 18:1-10). In the likeness of three passing strangers, the ancient patriarch welcomed God himself. Hospitality finds its fulfilment in Christ, who welcomed our humanity in his divine person, becoming as the liturgy says, “a guest and pilgrim among us.” When we show care and attention to others, we are serving God himself. Jesus told the apostles as he sent them on their mission: “Whoever receives you receives me and whoever receives me, receives the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40)
Hospitality is also about humility. We serve our guests, and we do whatever is necessary in order to make them comfortable. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples before the Last Supper and told them, ‘I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (John 13:15)
To carry out this mandate to serve as Jesus served, we simply have to look at the corporal works of mercy and find ways to make them an integral part of our lives. As Pope Saint John Paul II puts it: ‘Welcoming our brothers and sisters with care and willingness must not be limited to extraordinary occasions but must become for all believers a habit of service in their daily lives.’
As Thanksgiving draws near, we could think about generously shopping for items needed by food pantries, planning to provide a Thanksgiving meal for a family in need or inviting somebody who is alone to join us at our own table. Beyond Thanksgiving, though, we should continue with this generosity, so that caring for the needs of others is not only what we do but becomes who we are.