Abraham, Mr. Hospitality

Abraham, Mr. Hospitality

“May the All-Merciful One bless this table at which we have eaten. May it be like the table of Abraham our father; All who are hungry may eat from it, and all who are thirsty may drink from it.” (from a traditional Sephardic Jewish Passover liturgy).

Abraham, that towering Patriarch who continues to be the grandfather of the faithful, was known in ancient rabbinic circles as one big Welcome mat. According to a Hebrew saying as old as the hills, Abraham always had all four of his tent flaps open. He is the epitome of that sacred virtue known as hospitality… a magnanimous heart, an open spirit that welcomes all comers, known or unknown.

The story most often mentioned in this light is that scene in Genesis 18, when he and Sarah entertained angels without knowing. (Hebrews 13:2). Well, if Abraham did not know he was serving heavenly visitors at the start of this scene, he certainly knew it by the time they were haggling over numbers on the road to Sodom. In fact, we wonder if he knew his guests were perhaps not just three garden-variety angels, but perhaps the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit themselves in the flesh. (When you can, Rublev’s famous Russian Orthodox icon of the Trinity set near those oaks of Mamre bear a special look).

What did Abraham do to deserve his reputation as host with the most? Let’s take a look at the scene, and see what Abraham was made of…

1. He was on the look-out. Abraham was comfortably relaxing on his front porch, and he “looked up.” He noticed. He was able to welcome his guests only after he was aware enough to notice their presence. Hospitality begins with the conscious decision not to turn a blind eye, but instead to look up and notice, and then act. What might keep us from being observant? Too busy? Tired? Just plain cheap? Father Abraham starts us out sweet and simple… just look up.

2. He gave more than enough. Talk about extravagant and over the top! He sent Sarah and the servants off to the kitchen to get 20 quarts of fine flour, enough bread to feed 100 people! And that wonderful custom of killing the fatted calf (rf. to Prodigal Son story)? This was traditionally the “feast calf”, and was intended to feed a small village of about 100 people as well! So here is Abraham, the host who seems generous to a fault, reflecting the very heart of the Host of the Universe, who welcomed us to His world, providing more than we could ever need, way more, simply out of extravagant, even wasteful love.

3. He was at their service. Don’t you love this picture of Abraham standing near his guests while they are eating his food, the towel tastefully draped over his forearm, eager to make his guests feel at home, fat and happy? He was so busy being the host that it appears he didn’t even eat at his own feast! In his mind, it wasn’t self-denial or noble sacrifice. He was happy only when his visitors were satisfied. So it appears that hosts sometimes go hungry. One could always eat leftovers later, right?

4. He completed the welcome. There is something very sweet about Abraham “seeing them out,” walking them out to the road away from their tent when the feast was done. What a perfect time to personally confirm your care for the guests, a time for a final handshake or hug, a genial good-bye, and providing that extra bit of friendliness to complete the welcoming care.

I wonder if being “children of Abraham” involves more than faith in the unseen? Maybe there is an equal measure of love for the seen, too.

“Then the King will say… ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; Take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.'” (Matthew 25)