A reflection on the readings for Sunday, July 2, 2023, The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. You can listen to Fr. Satish’s homilies here.
When I lived in India, I didn’t realize how kind and hospitable the Indian people are. Now that I visit home a couple of times a year, it strikes me that I come from a very hospitable culture. I experienced this hospitality yet again as we moved my mom from her home to live with my brother and niece’s families. Throughout all the travels, the transition, and the move, people’s care and respect for the elderly touched me deeply. Mom was treated with such regard and care that I really believe that she could have travelled alone and reached home safe. From strangers rushing to offer us a hand to people going out of their way to help, it was a heartwarming, reassuring, uplifting, encouraging, and moving experience. There are some things that define our humanity. Kindness, goodness, hospitality, generosity are just a few of them.
Today’s first and gospel readings tell us stories of hospitality, kindness, and goodness. They connect us to our humanity. My three points today will focus on these themes.
Hospitality in Today’s Scriptures
Today’s first reading from the book of Kings tells us a heartwarming story about hospitality. The prophet Elisha was used to passing through Shunem on his way to Mt. Carmel. Scripture does not tell us her name, but a wealthy Shunammite woman showed him great hospitality along the way. It was not merely her hospitality, but extraordinary kindness, generosity, and hospitality that scripture extols. She invited Elisha to dine with her, but later, along with her husband, built him a room so that he would find a place to rest on his journeys. The woman did this without any expectations. However, ultimately, she was rewarded for her extraordinary hospitality. She and her husband were blessed with a child they always wanted.
In today’s gospel reading too, Jesus stresses the value of hospitality. Jesus says, “Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple, he will surely not lose his reward” (Mt 10:42). Granted, Jesus was talking about hospitality toward his disciples. Historically though, we must remember that the focus on hospitality toward disciples was because Matthew was writing at a time when persecution was rife. He was hoping to provide respite to the beleaguered followers of Christ. Nevertheless, Christ’s call to kindness and hospitality is amply made clear in this passage.
Both instances of hospitality in today’s scripture are instances within the faith tradition. But clearly the larger teaching of the Judeo-Christian scripture does not limit hospitality within the tradition. In the Old Testament, hospitality towards strangers is incorporated into Mosaic Law (Ex 22:21). In Matthew’s Gospel, “Whatever you do to the least of these brothers and sisters, you do it to me,” (Mt 25:40), is integral to salvation itself. The parable of the Good Samaritan is yet another inspiring teaching about hospitality toward people outside the tradition (Lk 10:35-47).
In other words, hospitality, kindness, goodness, and generosity toward others are meant to be the hallmark of Christian discipleship both toward people within and outside the tradition.
The Global reality
As opposed to the gospel call, there is a narrative being created today that focuses on “us versus them.” There is citizen versus immigrant, Black versus White, rich versus poor, traditionalist and progressive, conservative versus liberal, and even male versus female. I believe that something integrally human is lost when we imagine life this way. We forget that which is common to all of us. We are all human. We are all God’s children. We all have the same basic needs. We all seek to live in freedom and hope.
Perhaps you are aware of the tragedy of the fishing boat that sank off the coast of Greece. More than 600 people, at least a 100 of whom were children, drowned in one of the biggest immigrant tragedies. There were 750 on that small boat. Human smugglers were exploiting the anguish of these desperate people as they packed them into a fishing boat ill fit for a human voyage.
The ‘us versus them’ narrative might make us think of these immigrants as aliens, illegals, or reckless people. But hear the story of a man from Syria on that boat. He undertook this terribly risky voyage for the sake of his four-year-old son dying of cancer. His son needed to have a bone marrow transplant. He was hoping to make it to land, make a little money, and save his son’s life. Well, he did not make to land. His wife is now left alone having to make funeral arrangements for her husband and save her little son’s precious life. I bet you this – that if this man would stand here and tell us his story, we would do everything in our power to save this child.
When we hear the individual stories of desperate people, we get a whole new perspective on people we might otherwise reject. Unfortunately, it has become so common to villainize immigrants, villainize people we disagree with, paint those different from us in a negative light, and to look at people outside our country, our culture, our religion, as undesirable people.
Against this ‘us versus them’ narrative, today’s scripture readings invite us to think differently. They invite us to focus on kindness, goodness, hospitality, and generosity.
Creating a New Narrative
Let me propose an alternative. I begin with this question: “Why did the world not give the poor, desperate, and exploited immigrants on that fishing boat the same attention and care as the five people on the Titanic sub that imploded?” The five people on the sub died too. When the victims of the immigrant boat tragedy and the Titanic sub implosion stand before God, will there be separate lines? How does God see lives that could have been save by human kindness versus the lives that were lost because of human neglect? As one of the survivors said, “We thought they would rescue us but instead they sank the boat.”
As followers of Jesus and inspired by today’s scripture, we must create a new and different narrative. My dear people, not merely people within our tradition, our culture, our nationality, our way of thinking, but every human person immaterial of their race, religion, nationality, status, gender, or sexual orientation deserves our kindness, goodness, hospitality and understanding. But I am not talking generally. Just as the Shunammite women went beyond expectation to be kind of Elisha, I am proposing that we too go beyond normal expectation. I am not proposing that we merely do not give into the ‘us versus them’ narrative, but rather that we go beyond our limits to be kind and hospitable. I am proposing that we do not make judgment of people without getting to know them and hear their stories. I am proposing that we stop villainizing immigrants, that we open our lives to those who need us, and that we offer kindness to those on the periphery. If we do so, I believe that our eternal reward lies with God.
What is the narrative you are creating? When you stand before God, what will be your legacy? Will it be ‘us versus them’ or will it be a legacy of limitless kindness, goodness, hospitality, and generosity?
Image: Refugees on a boat crossing the Mediterranean sea, heading from Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, 29 January 2016. By Mstyslav Chernov/Unframe – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46776361
Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.