During these days on the island of Malta the feast of St. Paul’s Shipwreck on the Maltese Islands will be celebrated. For us Maltese, it is a very important day because it signalled the beginning of a loving relationship between God and our forefathers through Saint Paul, the Apostle of the gentiles.
I am not going to dwell on the story of the shipwreck. One can read that beautiful and detailed account in Acts 27 and beginning of Acts 28. I am going to share about St. Luke’s certificate of hospitality to the Maltese who welcomed them ashore.
“The natives showed unusual kindness… welcomed all of us…”
Hospitality is the disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly and generous way. It does not mean only the love of friends but also the love of strangers, that is, whoever is not classified under relatives, friends and acquaintances.
In the Book of Leviticus, God commanded his people: “When a stranger stays with you in your land, do him no wrong. He shall be to you as the native among you. Love him as yourself for you have been strangers in the land of Egypt. I am Yahweh, your God.” (Lev 19: 33-34) Hospitality is a virtue both commanded and commended by God.
In the New Testament we find that Jesus and his disciples depended entirely on the hospitality of others as they ministered from town to town. Besides that the first Christians lived together and shared all their belongings. They shared their food with great joy and simplicity of heart… and they won the favour of the people.
When Luke speaks about his experience in Malta, apart from the welcome of the people, Saint Luke tell us also about the hospitality of Publius, the prince of the island: “For three days this man welcomed us hospitably.” (Acts 28: 7)
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, tells us: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”(Heb.13:2) And this reminds us of Abraham.
Abraham, a wealthy and aged man, could have easily ordered one of his servants to tend to the three unannounced visitors. But being the humble and generous person he was, he personally tended to them and generously gave them the best he had. Before they left, Abraham realized that he had just entertained the Lord and his two angels.
In his Letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul teaches us that: “What we are is God's work. He has created us in Christ Jesus for the good works he has prepared that we should devote ourselves to them.”(Eph.2:10) God created us to imitate Christ’s love and compassion when we show hospitality, not only to fellow Christians, but even more so to strangers and the less fortunate.
We have to show love and hospitality to our neighbour, but who is our neighbour? In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus shows us that “our neighbour” is not limited by geography or race or creed. Whoever needs us, no matter where or when, he or she are our neighbours, and like Christ Jesus, we have to show mercy and love.
Let us not forget that Jesus showed us the perfect model of hospitality when, according to the teachings of St. Paul: “while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”(Rom 5:8) He died for us not when we were on friendly terms, but when, through our sins, we were his enemies. Before you and I accepted Christ, He already paid our debts on the cross.
This virtue is going to be the criterion against which God is going to judge us: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Mat 25: 34-36)
This virtue, that has to come from deep within our soul, is a symptom of the joy and peace that are in our heart. It shows the qualities of Christ in our life and in our actions. It is the virtue that joins us to Christ and to one another like a piece of Velcro that joins two pieces of material together.
In other words, if we want to become like Christ, we have to offer hospitality not only to those whom we love, but also to those whom we do not love… our actions of love have to be the outcome of our sincere love towards God and others.
Let us ask ourselves: How is our behaviour towards others? Are we really ready to help and welcome others:
- Whoever they might be…
- Of whatever race they might be…
- Of whatever creed…
- Of whatever skin colour…
- Of whatever social status they might be..
- How do we regard them?
- Do we despise them in our heart?
- Do we try to help them and welcome them with open heart or else do we try to take advantage of them?
- Are we ready to make our life uncomfortable in order to help them?
- Do we show the unusual kindness?
- Those who are homeless;
- Those who go hungry day after day;
- Those that are addicted to alcohol, drugs and other vices;
- Those who for whatever reason are marginalized by society.
Today God is calling and inviting us with the words of St. Paul: “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God.”(Rom 15:7) “Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions.” (Rom 14:1)
This is what God has called us to and God deserves our all. May we be generous in answering this call from God, so that, as St. Paul teaches us: “the Spirit of God will dwell within us” (Rom 8:11) and “nothing and no one will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:39)