Scripture: And Jesus concluded, “In your opinion, which one of these three acted like a neighbor toward the man attacked by the robbers?” The teacher of the law answered, “The one who was kind to him.” Jesus replied. “You go then, and do the same.” (Luke 10:36-37)
Meditation: A few years ago, I attended a meeting in Cincinnati and decided to spend the night sleeping in a shelter run by a close friend of mine. For nearly two decades, my friend Buddy had reached out to the homeless men and women in that city. Buddy was one of the most gentle and caring people I have ever known, unless you were a city official bent on redeveloping his beloved Over-the-Rhine neighborhood and displacing the poor and struggling families living there.
No matter who came to his door, no matter how dirty or confused or inebriated, Buddy put his arm around him and welcomed him into his shelter.
Tom was one of those men who somehow found their way to Buddy’s doorstep. The night I stayed at the shelter, Buddy asked Tom to give me a tour. Tom spent a little time showing me the various programs and residential portions of the building, but mostly Tom took me on a tour of his life.
He told me how he was abused as a child, how he quit school and got into trouble, how his marriage fell apart and he lost his family, and how drugs and alcohol consumed him for years. He said, “I have a Master’s in drugs, and a Ph.D. in trouble!”
“But,” he proudly continued, “because of this place and the people who cared about me, I found hope and the strength to change my life. I have been sober for 10 years. I have my children back in my life. I have a job I love, working with others who are struggling with addictions. And most of all, I know who I am.”
It is clear that Tom’s life was changed by the programs which helped him deal with some very difficult personal issues and by his own willingness to choose hope over hopelessness. But what really saved Tom’s life was the gift of hospitality — an unconditional acceptance of the stranger in our midst — provided by Buddy and his staff.
Henry Nouwen describes hospitality this way:
Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place…It is not a method of making our God and our way into the criteria for happiness but the opening of an opportunity to others to find their God and their way… hospitality is… a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances.. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.
help us to reach out to the strangers in our midst, to offer love, hope, comfort,
support, and a safe place to find their own way. Amen.
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