Saturday, July 1, 2017

The strange favor

In today's first reading we get what has to be the strangest request for a favor. Not only is it strange but I don't know that I have ever heard it repeated.

Abraham sees three strangers walking down the road. And, as chapter 18 of Genesis reports it, he runs out and asks them to do him a favor.

Sir, if I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant. Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet, and then rest yourselves under the tree. Now that you have come this close to your servant, let me bring you a little food, that you may refresh yourselves; and afterward you may go on your way.

So they are doing him a favor by bathing with his water, resting in his home, and eating his food?

And the answer is Yes! He is not doing them a favor by offering hospitality. They are doing him the favor by accepting it. To us this all seems backwards. It is another example of how God's ways are not our ways.

Of all the virtues in the Bible hospitality is the one that seems to get the most lost. And yet, the concept that is central to the Old Testament is really the foundation for evangelization in the New Testament. It is not enough to open the doors to those who come looking. Like Abraham, we must go out in the street and beg them to come visit. The passage tells us that Abraham "ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them; and bowing to the ground..." Imagine any one us, bowing to the ground and begging." We're Americans. Some of us don't even want to kneel before God in church. And we certainly do not beg anyone for anything.

And yet, if we are good Jews or Christians, the scriptures tell us that we must. The scriptures are clear that one of the measures by which we are ultimately judged is how we treat the stranger, the foreigner, the person.from whom we can expect no recompense. And all the excuses in the world cannot save us when we stand before God. We are the most blessed county in the world, and therefore God can rightly demand the most from us. When we are personally inhospitable, we call down judgement on us. When we support inhospitable policy, we call down judgement upon us. And when we stand before God which of us will have the nerve to hide behind the non-biblical adage, "Charity begins at home" - words never uttered by a person who is actually charitable.