This morning’s Gospel reading is Matthew 10:37–42:
Jesus said to his apostles:
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple— amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”
How often do we offer hospitality to friends and family in our homes? Because we moved many states away from our families, we routinely offer our home when relatives visit, or at least did until recently. (Pandemics and hospitality don’t mix well together.) The same is true for friends, and sometimes even business colleagues. We’re hardly alone in this; hospitality is one of the enduring cultural values across almost all human civilizations and communities.
Of course, hospitality isn’t easy to achieve. It takes more thought, more preparation than simply inviting someone to come to dinner and stay. This is a lesson I learned from my wife early in our marriage, by the way; previous to that, I just assumed that was all there was to it. (No, I’m not kidding, as she will attest.) We need to prepare the space, consider the needs of our visitors, and arrange our own lives in order to enjoy each other’s company and get the most from the visit. These are not always the easiest tasks, especially for someone as locked into routine as I can be.
Come to think of it, some of our visitors might be able to attest to this as well.
Anyway, hospitality is intentional. It’s not accidental, and it’s not incidental either. There is a difference between casual invitations and true hospitality. The former is a limited offer for momentary shelter, while hospitality is an invitation to enter our lives in a meaningful communion.
We see this lesson in today’s first reading from 2 Kings. Elisha comes to Shunem on a regular basis to prophesy, and often came to dine at the house of “a woman of influence.” That was certainly kind enough, but the woman comes to realize that Elisha’s work for the Lord entails hardships and that a prophet could use some comfort along the way. She and her husband prepare a room for Elisha to use when coming to Shunem in the future, inviting the prophet into deeper communion with her family.
What happens when the woman invites Elisha into this deeper relationship? She receives the blessing of a son.
This is the fruit of the closer communion with the prophets. The Shunemite woman shared her home and comfort with the prophet Elisha in an act of true hospitality. Furthermore, she made that an intentional choice, preparing a space specifically for the prophet in her home and therefore in her life.
Jesus makes the point about intentionality and communion with the prophets in today’s Gospel as well. In this case, Jesus instructs His apostles about the nature of those who will receive them in their first evangelical mission. Those who accept them as prophets, or at least as righteous, can expect to be blessed, even if it just means casual assistance rather than true hospitality. But it is those who recognize the prophets and the righteous and offer a deeper communion that will get the most benefit from those actions.
This is the challenge that we face as Christians today as we invite the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. Hospitality requires us to break out of our routines and truly encounter others who enter our homes. That is even more true of our encounter with the Lord through the Paraclete.
Just how intentional is our hospitality? Are we just asking the Holy Spirit to sleep on the couch while we go about the routine of our worldly lives, and barely noticing Him in our hearts? Or are we preparing that space for a more meaningful dwelling within us? We have an opportunity for true encounter with the Lord at any and all times, but we have to want that and prepare properly for it. Otherwise, we will have offered no real hospitality at all, but just a cold bed and some cold water that gives us nothing but missed opportunities for the blessings of growing in love.
Think of the Lord as a beloved visitor, and prepare that space for Him. If we are lucky, He will take up permanent residence in our hearts, and we will realize that we have been the visitors all along — and now live in His hospitality as true members of His family.
The front-page image is a detail from “Elisha and the Shunamite Woman” by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout in 1649. Currently on display in the National Museum in Warsaw, Poland. Via Wikimedia Commons.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.