Image: Snare Lake (Wekweti)
I am writing this reflection from a place that I have never been before, the small Tlicho community of Wekweti about an hours flight due north of Yellowknife. It is always interesting to go to a new community and also a little scary because I am never really sure what to expect. Every face is new and I do not know where to go or what the customs are that everyone takes for granted. Yet I am I never disappointed by the hospitality that I receive and the way people go out of their way to make me feel welcome.
Hospitality is a theme which we find in our readings today. If the first reading we read about the prophet Elisha as he encounters the woman of Shunem and her husband as they first offer the weary a traveler a meal and eventually end up renovating their house in order for Elisha to have a bedroom of his own every time that he passes through town. Not every prophet was welcomed so warmly but, in this case, Elisha experiences the gift of care from two generous people who reached out to a stranger and ended up becoming close friends.
Why would anyone go to all that trouble for a stranger? The scripture tells us that one motivation was that the woman thought that Elisha was a holy man and therefore, that she might expect to receive some kind of blessing or benefit from looking after one of God’s messengers. If that is the case she would have been surprised by today’s gospel passage in which Jesus says that the blessing that comes from welcoming and looking out for other does not just count for prophets but for all God’s people, even the littlest ones.
Yesterday we laid to rest a beloved elder who was known for being just the kind of person that offered this kind of hospitality. I was told that she always had food ready to share no matter who might drop in. She did not discriminate against anyone, all were welcome. When the food got stale and was no longer fit for human consumption she would cut it up and feed it to the ravens and seagulls until they had their fill. Being kind and generous was her nature and the companionship of people and animals was all the reward that she sought after.
In fact, true hospitality seeks no reward, it is an act of generosity and gratitude based on the knowledge that all that we have to offer others is that which God has first given to us, freely, and the best that God has to offer is yet to come.
Without out our seeking it our hospitality does return many gifts. Some of them are to be expected, like the new friendships that come from the encounters with those we reach out to, but other surprises might come our way. In the case of the elderly couple from Shunem, they had never been able to have children. Elisha, showing gratitude for what he has received from them intercedes to God on their behalf and they came to have a child of their own.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans we read that Jesus has extended his hand to us in welcome, in order that we might join God’s family through the gift of our baptism and by this we are the recipients of an amazing promise. If we accept God’s generous offer and walk with Christ in this life, then we will also be raised with Christ in the next. The selfless giving of his life for us has opened a way for us to have newness of life now and eternal life forever.
So open your arms wide to those around you who look lost and weary. Show your gratitude for the blessings you have received in this life and know that, in doing so, not only are you making their lives a little easier, you are securing for yourself a beautiful future with God in heaven.