Hospitality is a big part of Christian living. By welcoming others we express the love and generosity that Jesus taught. It is a reminder to us that when we welcome anyone we are welcoming Christ at the same time. In Jesus’ words, “I swear to God, if they welcome the person I send, they welcome me; and if they welcome me, they welcome the one who sent me.” (Matt. 10:40)
Matthew’s version of this hospitality speaks of reception and rewards commensurate with the people they welcome. Jesus’ remark promises a reward for even the most modest gesture of hospitality toward his disciples: “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” (Matt. 10:42)
When I think of Jesus’ statement, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me,” I think of Mother Teresa whose life was devoted to caring for the poor and needy, and who looked for Christ within each person — even in their distressing disguise.
She tells the story about one of her sisters in the Order who had just graduated from the university. She came from a well-to-do family that lived outside of India.
According to the rule of the Order, the very next day after joining the society, the postulants must go to the home for the dying destitute in Calcutta. Before this postulant went, Mother Teresa told her, “You saw the priest during the Mass – with what love, with what delicate care he touched the body of Christ. Make sure you do the same thing when you get to the home, because Jesus is there in a distressing disguise.”
So the new sister went, and after three hours, she came back. That girl from the university, who had seen and understood so many things, came to Mother Teresa’s room with such a beautiful smile on her face. She said, “For three hours I’ve been touching the body of Christ!”
And Mother Teresa said, “What did you do? What happened?”
She said, “They brought a man from the street who had fallen into a drain and had been there for some time. He was covered with maggots and dirt and wounds. And though I found it very difficult, I cleaned him, and I knew I was touching the body of Christ!” She knew! (“In the Heart of the World,” Mother Teresa)
Our welcoming, looking for the face of Christ within each other and those we are yet to meet, may not be as poignant as Teresa’s story, but it is the same hospitality that Jesus asks us to offer as we greet one another in the name of Christ. It doesn’t require any conspicuous labels of generosity. It simply requires a generous heart that sees even the stranger as a brother or sister.