The Place of Honor

2 September 2007 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 14, 7-14 The Place of Honor

The meaning of hospitality is clearly seen in the Gospel today. The word, hospitality, comes from the Latin word, hospis, meaning host and guest. Hospital means a ‘friendly welcome to a stranger.’ When Jesus suggested to his host to also invite the ‘poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind’ and those who will be unable to repay the gesture, He is basically telling him to be hospitable.

The Greeks extremely value hospitality. A stranger who passes by their house can be invited inside. The host washes the feet of the stranger, offers his food and drink, and only then can he ask the stranger’s name. In Homer’s epic poem, the Iliad and the Odyssey, we hear the story of Telemachus, the son of Odysseus and Penelope. After 20 years since Odysseus went to fight in the Trojan War, Telemachus searched for his father. He became a guest of Nestor, the King of Pylos, who was a great admirer of Odysseus. Only after Nestor’s hospitality to Telemachus that he discovered he was Odysseus’ son.

It is also valuable in the Middle Eastern culture. In Genesis, Lot was very hospitable to a group of men who were actually angels. A mob tries to rape them, but Lot goes to the extreme as to offer his own daughters as substitutes instead. Lot says, “Don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof” (Genesis 19,8). A bond is formed between the host and the stranger when salt is eaten under the roof. There is an Arab story of a thief who tasted something to see if it was sugar, and on realizing that he tasted salt, he returned all he had stolen and left.

Hospitality takes on a more Christian character when seen with the element of the stranger. In Matthew 5, 44, Jesus said that if we love those who love us, what reward will it have on us? The tax collectors and the sinners also do the same. But if we love our enemies, that would mark the Christian. Therefore, loving one’s enemies has a ‘hospitality’ aspect in it: Jesus demands that we love the stranger in our midst. Thus, the stranger might be people outside of our circle of friends — enemies do not belong to our intimate links. There are many who may feel very alienated: the first-year students, fresh from high school and the provinces; the eccentric like the geeks in the High School Musical fame.

Hospitality would be easier for Filipinos to come by. People find us hospitable and welcoming. Serving other people the best of what we have is an honor. We tell our guests to ‘feel at home’. We give the stranger the place of honor.

We pray that people may witness our Christian faith through our hospitality. We should have hearts that is inclusive, NOT exclusive. We are able to open our hearts and our homes even to those who belong to other faiths. And it is done with genuine enthusiasm and the smile that made Filipinos famous.

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