One of the most recognizable icons ever created is Andrei Rublev’s masterpiece The Trinity. Also called The Hospitality of Abraham, it depicts the three angels (messengers) who visited Abraham at the oak of Mamre, seated in communion around a table. This story, recounted in Genesis 18:1-8, is a window into ancient Semitic life, especially the practice of hospitality.
Life in the nomadic and agrarian cultures of the time was challenging, to put it mildly. (All who have suffered the insecurity and upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic can now more easily grasp the fragility of all things.) The ancients knew the difficulty of obtaining food in an inhospitable environment where water and arable land were scarce, and the survival of flocks and herds depended on nature’s whims. Sharing food, therefore, with anyone, much less with passing strangers, was an act of genuine graciousness, a godly thing, because it represented a sharing in what was most precious and bestowed by the author of life.
I once read this powerful insight into hospitality as a religious act: “The one who practices hospitality frequently entertains God!” The disciples of Emmaus experienced this as they journeyed in the presence of an unknown Stranger on the road, who later revealed himself to them in the breaking of bread.
In an age, and a moment in the political life of our nation and other countries, when those who seek access are vilified, even demonized, Pope Francis has consistently spoken of the plight of immigrants and refugees. On September 29, 2019, before a crowd of 40,000 in Saint Peter’s Square, he said, “As Christians, we cannot be indifferent to the tragedy of old and new forms of poverty, to the bleak isolation, contempt, and discrimination experienced by those who do not belong to ‘our group.’ We cannot remain insensitive, our hearts deadened, before the misery of so many innocent people.”
The Holy Father often frames this in terms of “eucharistic hospitality.” Christ’s whole life was one of self-emptying service, and he continues to share his life with us in signs of bread and wine, his Body and Blood. As Pope Francis has said, “Jesus speaks in the silence of the mystery of the Eucharist and reminds us each time that following him means going out of ourselves and making our lives not something we ‘possess,’ but a gift to him and to others.”
The hospitality of Abraham and Sarah was rewarded. In Genesis 18:9-15, one of the heavenly messengers announces that Sarah will soon bear the son she and Abraham petitioned God to grant them. Will we have the heart and the faith to be similarly hospitable, and merit a blessing?