What Does Offering Hospitality Look Like?

Yesterday afternoon I gave the reflection on the readings at Mass here at the Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh, where I am one of the directors on an Ignatian Colleagues Program retreat.

The reading that prompted my reflection was from the first book of Kings, where Elijah travels to Zarapeth and asks a widow for a cupful of water.  Here is Elijah, showing up after traveling from the cave in which he has been hiding – I imagine him hungry, thirsty and probably looking a bit worse for the wear after his trek.

When Elijah asks for water, the widow doesn’t run from him in fright.  She doesn’t turn up her nose in disgust at his appearance.  She doesn’t tell him to get his own water. She doesn’t say the water is only for the good people of the town.

She brings him water.  And then she feeds him.

Hospitality is about welcoming everyone.  The Jewish people are constantly told in the Hebrew scripture to welcome the stranger; that just as they were once sojourners in a foreign land, so they should care for the sojourners among them.  Jesus took up the same theme in the judgment passage in Matthew 25 – “when I was a stranger you welcomed me.”

In my reflection, I talked about some of my own experiences of what the offer of hospitality looks like, and encouraged folks to consider what does it mean to offer hospitality – for each of them as individuals, for the universities of which they are a part, for their faith communities, and for our country.

It seems pretty clear to me what hospitality doesn’t look like:

It doesn’t look like separating young children from their parents at the border and putting the children into cages.

It doesn’t look like Attorney General Sessions announcing that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence will no longer qualify for asylum.

It doesn’t look like order guards destroying bottles of water left for migrants in the desert.  (To be clear re these last examples, I am not saying US immigration laws wouldn’t benefit from some systematic reform, but these actions are not that.)

Hospitality doesn’t look like Islamophobia or anti-semitism – both of which are on the rise in the US.

And hospitality doesn’t look like accosting random people who are not white on the streets and telling them that they should go back to Asia, Africa, or the Middle East.

How do we promote a spirit of hospitality?  Individually and communally.



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