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16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (17.07.16)
The Hospitality Of Immigration
The word immigration, in the early 21st century, has overshadowed the word hospitality. With millions of people on the move, the word ‘Immigration’ has grown adjectival appendages such as ‘economic’, ‘political’, ‘medical’, ‘social’, each capable of causing crescendos of alarm. ‘Hospitality’ has become limited to a description of polite socialising. It was not always so!
Abraham is the desert-dwelling host who spares absolutely nothing to welcome strangers to his tent. The reading from Genesis (18: 1-10) for this 16th Sunday paints the picture. Abraham is surprised by the appearance of the unknown travellers but immediately assures them of a welcome. For desert nomads hospitality has always been a priority. The extraordinary demands of climate, dangerous daytime heat, sub-zero temperatures at night, scarring sandstorms and the unavailability of water, meant open hospitality was a lifeline for travellers. Desert dwellers also welcomed guests as the bringers of a blessing.
Our Trinitarian God, in visiting Abraham, raised this traditional hospitality to a new level. Abraham, in welcoming the unexpected strangers, was welcoming his God without knowing it. Jesus, centuries later, would amplify this in his teaching on the Last Judgement (Matt. 25: 31-46) and remind us that we never know in what guise he will turn up in our neighbourhood. Abraham, of course, did not live in a gated community where security guards would have turned away unexpected strangers. Abraham’s family was motivated by hospitality not security.
Abraham’s welcoming of the strangers served as an inspiration for artistic theological reflections, including the famous Rublev icon of the Trinity. There’s a timeless truth nestled in the Genesis story that begs to be reinterpreted and lived out by each succeeding generation. Up to this point, Abraham had been faithful to God’s call to uproot himself and his family and set out on a vocational pilgrimage.
Genesis 12: 1ff:
“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; and arrived there.”
On this occasion (Gen 18: 1-10) God develops his earlier promise to Abram by blessing Abraham’s current fidelity with the specific promise of a child within a year, despite his and his wife’s advanced years. This Genesis reading about Abraham alerts us to the fact that God appears in every guise except the one we expect. This in turn tells us that, in our life on earth, we have countless opportunities to entertain God’s messengers.
God waits unrecognised, unheeded and, therefore, unwelcomed at the portals of modern Europe that has largely become a spiritual desert. Europe’s citizenry has chosen to avidly welcome an implosion of incapacitating ‘self’ in the exploitation of passion 24/7. In so doing people are welcoming not God but his nemesis, Satan. Satan brings not a life-giving blessing but eternal incarceration.
“Martha, Martha,” cries Jesus in today’s Gospel. What was he trying to teach her that she was too busy to hear? Was it the message he reiterated on various occasions in differing circumstances namely, “Do not worry about what to say.” (Luke 12:11) “Do not worry about your life.” (Luke 12: 22) “You will be hated, but not a hair of your head will perish.” (Luke 21: 18-19)
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about too many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10: 38-42)
We should not expect to see personal benefit from the love we give in the name of Jesus. It is not about us but the other. There is no private gain that comes from love. The impact of our loving may not be visible for a long time, if ever, in this life. Nevertheless, we are called to love beyond reason, to give without question, to sacrifice without anticipation of reward. Baptism commits us to the giving of a love that is not earned or rationed. Nor is it awarded only to those whom we consider as deserving of it. It is to be lavished freely, unexpectedly and unceasingly, in the name of Jesus the Christ.
Hospitality and Immigration should be closely associated. This means that receiving countries need to ensure they are able, as well as willing, to be hospitable to the immigrants they welcome. In Matt. 25: 31-46 we hear the cry of those found wanting:
“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?”
The stream of live pictures and photos showing unseaworthy and overfilled small vessels limping to European shores is unending. Europeans will never be able to truthfully cry, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick ..” for these images are etched in our hearts and souls.
Somebody once said:
There is a distinction between the memory of the soul and the memory of the brain. The brain’s memory ages and is subject to distortion and decay with the passage of time as well as daily wear and tear. The memory of the soul, sustained by grace, remains intact. For as long as the grace of The Spirit is present in a person, the decay that affects the human body does not touch the soul.
Pope Francis said:
‘The Holy Spirit is the living memory of The Church enabling the Baptised to remember, to understand and to enact the Lord’s words.
Christians without this memory are not true Christians. They are halfway along a road, imprisoned in a moment, who do not know how to value their history, how to read it and live it as a history of salvation.
With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are able to interpret the inner inspirations and events of life in the light of Jesus’ words. Thus our knowledge of memory, the knowledge of the heart that is a gift from the Spirit, grows within us.”