A Hard Lesson in Real Hospitality
Hospitality was considered one of the greatest virtues in the early Church. Indeed, in the first few centuries, a bishop was expected to take people into his own house – the homeless, the traveler, whoever might need shelter. It was the Church that began hospitals and orphanages centuries ago. Our Lord says to us, “…share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house, when you see the naked to cover him, and not to hide yourself from their own flesh. Then shall your light break forth like the dawn” (Isaiah 58:7-8). Our Lord values hospitality and the giving of ourselves to others, especially when it is not convenient for us to do so.
Here, we have another instance of our Lord’s healing of a man on the Sabbath day and the indignation of the religious leaders for doing so, not because the Law said not to heal on the Sabbath but because they had twisted the Law such that scruples meant more than people. Then Jesus teaches a lesson on humility. The point is not that we should act with deceit for the purpose of appearing lowly and humble – there is nothing praiseworthy in that. The point is at the end of the parable: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” I see this in the context of the entire chapter which is on hospitality. A hospitable person will humble himself and allow others to go before him; he will rejoice over the exaltation of others even when it means his own abasement. It isn’t that a truly humble person thinks less of himself, but that he thinks of himself less often than he does of others.
And finally we have the lesson that few follow. Most of us enjoy having people over for dinner; there’s nothing wrong with that. (I’m always amused when I hear of political fundraisers where a plate goes for ten thousand dollars.) But how often do we invite people other than our friends – the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. And what’s worse is that the reason we don’t do this is not because we would rather invite people who can repay us, but because we just don’t want to be around those people. We don’t know them as well, they smell bad, we don’t trust them not to steal things, some of them have mental problems, we deserve to have a nice Thanksgiving dinner with our own families (even though the pilgrims invited the Indians). There are a million and one ways to rationalize why we can’t follow the Scriptures when we don’t want to; I’ve done it far too many times, myself. As our society grows more impersonal, the Church must reclaim this virtue. Then shall our light break forth like the dawn.