Religion classes have begun, and they bring to mind the best religion class that I ever had. This class took place in the summertime and not during the school year. This class took place in an open field and not in a classroom.
One sunny summer day my father said to us kids, “Well boys we are going to build a new fence today.” So, my brothers and I grabbed our hammers and our coffee cans filled with staples and followed him into the field. We worked our way slowly down the fence line …... nailing up the new wire…... moving from south to north. The weather was very hot and humid, and we worked slowly and methodically. When we came close to our neighbor’s house Marie came out to meet us. Marie was the mother of the kids that we went to school with and she was carrying a pitcher of ice water. She gave each of us a glass of water and wow did that water taste good.
And that’s the end of the story! Nothing more to say excerpt that I was so surprised and so impressed by what she did that I never forgot what she did for us on a hot summer day. I think of Marie and her generous spirit whenever I hear the words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, Chapter 9: “When someone gives you a drink of water because you belong to me their reward will be great in heaven.” Later I came to realize that Marie was a true Christian. She took the words of Jesus into her heart and her nonverbal message was just as powerful and just as memorable as any verbal message that I ever heard in a formal classroom.
We find a similar message in Genesis, Chapter 18. Abraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent on a hot summer day when he saw three strangers walking by. He gave them water and invited them into his tent for a wonderful dinner. Then one of the strangers said, “We are messengers from God. We came to tell you that your wife Sarah will give birth to a son and we will see him when we return next year.” Then they disappeared.
Abraham learned a powerful lesson that day. He learned that when you welcome people in need into your house and into your life you are welcoming messengers from God. Abraham shows up as a messenger from God in today’s Gospel. Jesus says that there was a rich man who refused to share his food with the poor man. After they died the rich man found himself in the fires of Gehenna and the poor man found himself in the bosom of Abraham.
The rich man knew his scriptures. He knew the story of Abraham giving water and food to people in need. So, he asked Abraham to send down some water to cool his tongue. Speaking for God, Abraham said, “We can’t do it because there is a great chasm between those who share and those who don’t share.” The rich man said, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and give me a second chance.” “No.” Abraham said. “You have had many chances already. The prophet Amos and many other prophets told you to help the poor, but you would not listen to them. And your heart told you to help the hungry man at your table, but you did not listen to your heart.
There is no hope for you. You do not listen to the scriptures, and you do not listen to your heart.” I am here to tell you that there is a great chasm between those who share and those who refuse to share.”
Now let’s move forward to our own day and age. In today’s Gospel Jesus is calling us to take on the ministry of hospitality. He is calling us to show compassion and concern for those who come into our lives.
Let’s take a closer look at the ministry of hospitality. What does it mean in concrete terms? Does it mean that we chase children away when they come close to our house, or do we welcome them? Does it mean that we walk away from teenagers with loud music, or do we welcome them? Does it mean that we avoid persons with handicaps, or do we welcome them into our circle of friendship? Does it mean that we slam the door on salespersons, or do we politely tell them that we are not interested? When guests come into our homes do we give them our full attention?
Let’s remember what Abraham and the prophets and Jesus have taught us: The people who come into your life might be messengers from God. They should be treated with great respect because they might be messengers from God. We should never forget what Jesus said: “When someone gives you a drink of water because you belong to me their reward will be great in heaven.”
I will close with this conclusion. With the help of grace from God, we will not be like the rich man in today’s gospel parable. Instead, we will warmly welcome people to our table of friendship. We will welcome them into our hearts and into our lives.