Unexpected Visitors

July 17, 2022: Genesis 18: 1–10a; 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

God comes to Abraham in today’s first reading, and God comes in the guise of three visitors. This reading is important because it reveals how God is likely to come to us in our own lives.

The first thing we should notice is that Abraham is not expecting visitors. He is living an ordinary day, sitting at the entrance of his tent to keep out of the hot desert sun. But when he looks up, three men stand before him. This reading is telling us that God often comes to us in unexpected ways. As much as we would like to plan or anticipate God’s arrival, God is not bound to follow our schedule. We might expect that God will come to us while we are in church or as we engage in personal prayer. But God is just as likely to come to us in the supermarket, on the soccer field, or as we doze on the backyard patio. God can come to us at any time or in any place.

It is also important to notice what Abraham does. As soon as he sees the three men, he immediately offers them hospitality: water to bathe their feet, bread, milk, and meat to eat. Nothing in this reading indicates that Abraham sees these men as special. They are simply strangers to welcome. But in welcoming them, Abraham welcomes God. This reading tells us that the context in which we are most likely to meet God is in our service to others, especially in service to those we do not know. We are always serving family and friends. That is as it should be. But it is when we extend ourselves to the stranger that we are most likely to encounter God.

This is true on both a personal and a national level. Personally, it is when we open ourselves to those who are different from us, when we offer hospitality to someone of a different race, religion, or orientation that we can most justly expect God to speak to us and bless us. Nationally this reading should motivate us to fix our broken immigration system. Christians should be the first to advocate for just and generous immigration laws because we understand that God is to be found in the stranger, and we are all blessed when we welcome those who show up at our doorstep.

If God were to suddenly appear to us today in all God’s glory and power, we would fall over one another in offering hospitality. But that is not the usual way God comes. God usually comes to us as, God came to Abraham, in unexpected visitors. And God can arrive in any time or place. That is why we who follow Jesus must always be ready to welcome the stranger.  

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