Jul 10, 2008, 8:00 AM
One of the points of convergence between Christianity and African Culture in the angle of hospitality towards strangers.
Unlike many other societies in other ends of the globe, we, Africans receive visitors with joy, we care for them and take pleasure and pride in their presence. Provisions are even made for unknown and unexpected strangers together with those who come in odd and inconvenient hours. This kind of cultural disposition made Christianity more African than anything else as many of the earliest and present Christian Missionaries to our continent have confirmed. Christianity is a religion built and centred on love, love of neighbour and stranger, charity and hospitality to the immediate one that providence brings across us at any moment of our lives. Christ our Lord, teacher and savoir received everyone who came his way, cared for them and poured out his life for all. He taught us to do the same, insisting that it is himself that we receive and care for whenever we care for the strangers and the needy. Even in one of his stories told in Chapter 25 of St Matthew’s Gospel he demonstrated that the extent of the hospitality and kindness that we show to him to the poor and strangers, will be the criteria for the kind of judgement that we would receive on the last day. In the word of God today, the Lord presents himself as our true guest and solicits for a care that is borne out of true love.
One of the things that make us always able to serve God perfectly in our strangers is being conscious of the presence of the people around us, being attentive to them, and being sensitive to their feelings. In the Genesis story of today, Abraham was so conscious of the people around him that it was by looking up himself that he saw the three visitors standing. They don’t even have to come and greet him in a special way, and do some elaborate introduction before he could take notice of them. He was the one who had to run up to greet them. This again goes contrary to the conventional belief that it is always the responsibility of the poor and less privileged ones to run after the rich and well placed ones, and to cry out if they were to receive any help. Abraham was sensitive to these people’s feelings and could know that they were tired, and hungry. He knew that a tired and hungry man needs water, food and rest. He didn’t wait to receive the request from them, instead, he requested to offer the service.
Sometimes, inattentiveness and insensitivity could make us to misplace priorities in the kind of service we render to visitors, to defeat the purpose of their presence or to start doing them disservice in place service. Today’s Gospel account of Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha demonstrates this point. As Jesus entered the house, Martha was so much concerned with her own priority towards Jesus Christ, that for long she couldn’t even look to see the disposition of the visitor and whether he appreciated her agenda. A man once told me that he stopped visiting a family because anytime he goes there, they are so eager in pleasing themselves by pressuring him to take their food and drink which were good neither to his taste nor to his health. A visitor comes because he needs our attention, another come because he needs food and the third comes because he needs our advice on a particular issue. Running up and down for food, when a visitor needs money could just be as useless as offering rough meat to a goat. Sometimes even, what we are eager to offer our visitors could be by far more demanding than what they need of us, a sense of which we fail to have out of our inattentiveness and insensitivity. Our Lord only needed the presence and attentiveness of Mary and Martha, but the latter was disturbing herself running up and down and at the same time frustrating the purpose of our Lord’s visits by not listing to his words of life. It is for this reason that our Lord had to use the slightest opportunity that she provided through her complaint to drive the message home to her: “Martha, you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her” (Luke 1:24). One of the things that Christ the Lord made very clear to us in the scriptures is that he comes to us in very simple ways and in unexpected times. So it is that in simple people and unexpected visitors, he constantly makes his advent into our lives. He comes to seek in order to give, to ask in order to bless us. Abraham’s received the blessed promise made him by God because he went out to receive and serve strangers he never knew before. His meeting of these visitors was quite providential, yet he could have easily ignored them and allowed the blessing to pass bye. We miss many blessings ordained for us by ignoring many people that come across us and failing in the demands of charity. Many strange and needy people we pass bye in life will never come by again, and the opportunity of serving Christ in them and as such claiming our blessings might not be regained.It really entails sacrifice and suffering, giving our time, wealth, or whatever it might be, caring for Christ in others, but there is a great reward, a reward of immediate deep joy and fulfilment that comes as a guarantee of the joy of heaven ahead. When we suffer in serving Christ in others, we know we are in union with Christ who suffered in saving us. The joy that follows therefore resembles the one that St Paul told us about today as he testified with himself: “It make me happy to suffer for you, and I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church” (Colossians 1:24).