Welcome Stranger, Welcome Christ

“Hospes venit, Christus venit.”  When a guest comes, Christ comes.  This is part of the lesson in hospitality taught by St. Benedict (480-547 AD) whose monks and priests have become known throughout the centuries for providing welcome to strangers and travelers in their monasteries.  When we receive a guest, we should receive them as if Christ Himself had come to our door.  Most churches have a hospitality ministry.  We want our parishes to be warm and welcoming to those who choose to worship with us.  We try to make a good first impression by greeting folks at the door, directing them to their pews, and answering their questions and concerns.  We make a point of introducing ourselves to those we don’t know at Mass.  We smile, we’re friendly, we want people to feel at home.  This is all good Christian hospitality which we know and understand to be a hallmark of what our faith communities are called to be.
And yet we’re also called to an even deeper level of welcoming if we’re to truly live out the Gospel of Christ.  This is radical hospitality which recognizes that the spirit of welcome isn’t just an add-on to our parish life:  it IS our parish life.  “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.  Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food.  I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me’ ” (Matthew 25:34-35).  When we care for the stranger, the “other,” we care for Jesus.  Near the end of St. Luke’s Gospel is a wonderful story of radical hospitality.  The risen Christ is walking with two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus.  The disciples are so distressed by Jesus’ crucifixion that they don’t recognize Who is walking with them.  Christ is the stranger.  But being good Jews, they invite this stranger to eat with them and stay the night.  The stranger is now a guest.  As He breaks the bread, the disciples realize Who He is.  The One Who was the guest is now the Host–literally, in the Holy Eucharist they share. 
We have no better model of radical hospitality in our own day than the life and mission of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  As a nun teaching at a private school in India, she received a call from God to work with the poorest of the poor in the streets and slums of Calcutta.  Two years later, in 1950, she founded the Missionaries of Charity who now work worldwide sharing Christ’s love and care with the most vulnerable and marginalized people of God.  Mother Teresa believed that loving the poor and the dying is loving Jesus in “His most distressing disguise.”  But we don’t live in the slums of Calcutta or Port-au-Prince.  Most of us aren’t called to be missionaries caring for the sick and dying.  So who is the stranger God calls us to love?  Yes, we’re called to welcome the newcomer at Mass and to make them feel at home.  And we’re called to be welcoming to those not like us, to our neighbors who don’t worship with us or don’t worship at all.  We’re also called to be Christ to those most different from us:  the refugee and the immigrant, the mentally disabled, the homeless, the prisoner, the forgotten and the unloved.  At the heart of Christ’s life, we’re called to bring the Kingdom of God to every person in our lives, each and every day.  Every step on our own journey is a personal road to Emmaus and every stranger who crosses our path is Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.  Welcome Him!

He that receives you, receives Me.”  —(Matthew 10:40)

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jesusandthebible
    Jun 05, 2012 @ 17:58:13

    Hi tiberjudy,

    Is everyone really Christ? I like your quote of Mt. 10:40 (He that receives you, receives me); but who are the “you” there? Is it everybody?

    Jesus is talking to his disciples, preparing them for their mission. As they go out to tell the kingdom of Israel that the new kingdom of heaven has arrived, they are to depend on those they go to for hospitality (Mt. 10:5-13). If someone will not “receive” them, they shake off the dust and leave (10:14). Those who do not receive them will face a terrible day of judgment (10:15).

    So it is these “sheep” sent out to wolves that represent Christ; whoever receives you, receives me (10:16,40). The wolves do not represent Christ. Those who do receive the sheep/disciples will not only accept their mission message but also provide hospitality. Whoever gives to one of these little ones (sheep) a cup of cold water because he is a disciple will not lose his reward (10:42).

    Similarly, the “sheep” of Mt. 25:32-36 are those among the nations who have received (and provided hospitality, including drink for the thirsty) “Christ.” For as they did this to one of the least of these my brothers, they did it to me (Christ). The least here are like the little ones in 10:42. The final reward depends on how people receive (or refuse) these lowly disciples sent out on mission.

    In this Gospel, Jesus’ brothers and sisters are not everybody, they are his disciples; they are whoever does the will of my Father (12:48-50).

    All of this is not to say that we do not love everybody; loving our neighbor includes loving even our enemy. But many of those others, including those enemies, do not represent Christ. We disciples are the ones who (should) represent Christ.


    • tiberjudy
      Jun 06, 2012 @ 18:05:10

      Hi there,
      Thanks for reading my post and taking the time to comment. I think I was viewing the message in broader terms than just the verse in Mathew 10. My Catholic faith background encourages us to welcome every person as Christ, even our enemies, even those who do not yet believe. I don’t believe that Christ wants us to distinguish among people in our acts of hospitality. In fact, He tells us: “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me’ ” (Matthew 25:34-35). And I go on to say that when we care for the stranger, the “other,” we care for Jesus.
      Thanks again and God bless you,


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