Pulpit Reflections by Father Donald Imming When in Israel 10 years ago on sabbatical, I decided I wanted to visit Bethany, where Jesus' friends, Lazarus, Martha and Mary lived. It is also the place where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. It is only two miles east of Jerusalem, but over the Mount of Olives which is a high, steep hill. It was during the first "intifada" (uprising) against Israel's occupation of the West Bank, which formerly was part of Jordan, and since the 1965 war Israel has occupied it. Recently, as part of a peace agreement, much was put under Arab control. However, I was warned not to go to Bethany because of the hostilities.
On arriving there I visited the church next to the traditional site of Lazarus' tomb. It was noon so I found a place to eat lunch. The proprietor served me, but was unfriendly. I was an American, and the Americans were providing the Israelis with the weapons that killed his people.
However, some other customers came in for lunch. One, an Arab man in his thirties, spotted me, came over and introduced himself and sat down to converse with me. Later, after having eaten, I left the restaurant and a well dressed middle-aged man passed me on the street. He, too, introduced himself and inquired about myself. He invited me for coffee. I said "no" and explained that I had just eaten.
Why were these Arab gentlemen so friendly? Because I was an American? Not on your life. I am sure their feelings toward me were much the same as the proprietor of the restaurant. What they were doing was extending to me the time honored courtesy of Middle Eastern hospitality.
It predates Judaism; therefore also Christianity and Islam. We see evidences of it in Genesis 18 when Abraham, spotting three men (one of whom turned out to be God himself) walking near his tent, rushes out to invite them to be seated under his tree, provides water for washing their feet, and bids Sarah, his wife, to prepare nothing short of a feast.
We see it at work in Luke's Gospel chapter 10 verse 38 and following. Jesus is visiting Martha, Mary and Lazarus in their home. Martha is a busy bee providing hospitality, not to a stranger, as did Abraham, but to a friend. She asks Jesus to reprove Mary for not helping her with the tasks of hospitality. Mary has not exactly been idle. She is listening intently to Jesus' words. But Jesus refuses to reprove her.
He says: "Mary has chosen the better part."
Is Jesus belittling that age-old Middle Eastern custom of hospitality? I don't think so. He is building on it. He is saying that if we should extend hospitality to friend and stranger alike, fellow human beings, should we not also extend hospitality to God? Should we not welcome him into our homes, our very minds and hearts, our lives?
Jesus in his vision to John in the Book of Revelation says: "Here I stand knocking at the door. If anyone hears me calling and opens the door, I will enter his house and have supper with him and he with me." (Rev. 3/20)