Reading – Acts 28:1-2a, 7-9
A picturesque view of Main Hall, St. Norbert College, through the school’s iconic archway.
Let me add a brief explanation: I attend St. Norbert College, founded by canons of the Norbertine order (big surprise, right?). One of the signature virtues of the order is “hospitality,” and the college’s theme for the 2014-2015 academic year was “radical hospitality.” Thus, I couldn’t help but immediately focus on the words “extraordinary hospitality” in tonight’s reading. I can even tie them in with the arching theme of today’s Gospel reading: bonus!
“Miracle of Saint Paul on the Island of Malta” by David Teniers the Elder, early 1620s
The natives of Malta extend the aforementioned extraordinary hospitality to Paul, Luke (or whoever the author of Acts was), and the other members of the ship wrecked offshore of the island in a strong winter storm. What did this hospitality involve? The usual food, warmth, and shelter, certainly, but also, permeating and supporting these actions, an attitude of deep respect, acceptance, and generosity, of welcome. This was hospitality without any signs or gestures of reluctance, resentment, impatience, suspicion, or self-interest, because there were none of these motives or attitudes behind it. The Maltese people gave to and helped Paul’s group without qualification or hesitation, seeking only to recognize and support their well-being as human beings.
Later in the reading, Paul extends the same extraordinary hospitality to the father of Publius. In fact, Paul displayed it to all of the communities to which he tirelessly preached the gospel. He was seeking the healing and salvation of all souls and their reconciliation with God, not any personal advancement or gain.
Such self-giving behavior finds its inspiration and motivation in the Holy Spirit, its source and summit in the Father, and its paragon in the Son. Jesus’ whole ministry, his whole life (and death and resurrection), was extended toward others and toward the Other, helping the former to recognize and accept the outreaching love of the latter. We see this in today’s Gospel reading, in which Jesus healed the leper and incorporated him into the community but also, first of all, approached him and touched him. Jesus saw and treated the leper as a human, an attitude not terribly shocking to us today but profoundly surprising in that time and place.
Hospitality that extraordinary is hard to keep to oneself when one receives it, especially when the giver simply gives it instead of announcing it for everyone to hear. I don’t blame the leper for not following Jesus’ order to keep the miracle quiet. Had I been in his position, I probably would have done the same thing!
Paul, following Jesus, similarly worked to heal others and bring them to an acceptance and love of God. We, following Paul and ultimately following Jesus, should strive to do the same. O Lord, may we, through your love, extend extraordinary hospitality to all those around us, in both the special and the ordinary moments of our lives. ~