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Vol I No. 1
Daily Thought

The Law of Hospitality: Thomas Aquinas with Commentary

by William J. Martin

 

(c) National Trust, Mr Straw's House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

THE LAW OF HOSPITALITY. Given to hospitality. (Rom. xii. 13)

IN this Epistle, which is altogether full of moral precepts, we are exhorted to great hospitality, to which four motives ought chiefly to move us. Firstly, the command of the Lord. Secondly, the example of the Saints. Thirdly, the loss which is sustained by not exercising hospitality. Fourthly, the manifold advantage in its exercise.

We are exhorted to great hospitality because the Lord enjoins it. Human beings are rational creatures. They have the capacity to understand and to will. This is how they are created in the Image and Likeness of God. Thus they must perfect these capacities if they are to be one with their Maker. And thus as God commands, a man must see the good in it and assent to it voluntarily. He is inspired to do so with more zeal when he sees the effects of it in the lives of the Saints. Studying the loss of it shows to him a poverty that will attack his life if he avoids it. Studying its expression, he sees that advantages issue forth in spiritual bounty, and so the exercise of it is essential to salvation.

  1. On the first head it is to be noted that the Lord enjoined hospitality by a threefold law: the law of nature, the old, and the new law.

(1) He commanded, by the law of nature, that as we desire to receive hospitality from others, so we should shew it to others All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. (St. Matt. vii. 12)

The law of nature teaches us that we expect to be treated by others in a way that respects our being and our integrity. So we expect one thing. If we do not treat others according to the same law, we are hypocrites and the truth is not in us. To be subject to one law from others but to then exercise another law upon others is to live a divided and irrational life. The law of nature bids us to be subject to one law as receivers and givers. One law then is expressed in grateful receiving and in generous giving.

(2) By the old law: Is it not to deal My bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? (Isa. Iviii. 7)The stranger, the fatherless, the widow, that they may eat within thy gates and be filled. (Deut. xxvi. 12)

The Old Testament contains the Revelation of God’s Desire or Will for Man on the way to salvation. If we hope to be on the way to salvation, we must choose to obey God’s commands. God here exhorts us to love our neighbor. He reminds us that our neighbors are those who share the Image and Likeness of God with us. He reminds us that we are to be kindly affectioned not only to those of the Household of God but to the fatherless, widows, orphans, homeless, hungry, thirsty, and so forth. This is because God loves them as much as He loves us. He wants them as much as He wants us. God will ask us on the great Day of Judgment if we have ‘done it to the least of these His brethren.’ What will our answer be?

(3) By the new law: Be not forgetful to entertain strangers. (Heb. xiii. 2)

When we entertain strangers, we may be entertaining angels unawares. Few Christians take in strangers. They are afraid of earthly calamity but they are not afraid of eternal calamity when they shall be judged for having hoarded their riches for themselves and their pet projects –including the Church! Let us endeavor to entertain strangers.

  1. On the second head it is to be noted that the example of the Saints teach us three things about hospitality.

(1)That we should constrain strangers to come in unto us. They constrained them, saying, Abide with us; for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. (St. Luke xxiv. 29)

The quotation comes from the Disciples walking on the Road to Emmaus. They invite Jesus to remain with them, though they do not know who He is. We must do the same with new people we meet. We must invite them to sit down with us and have a talk. We must know that Christ is in them. They may not know it, but we do. Our walls of safe and concealed respectability need to be broken down if we are to be transformed by strangers who give us an opportunity to perfect God’s Grace in our hearts. 

(2) That we should protect our guests from harm. I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly; with these men do nothing, for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof. (Gen. xix. 7, 8) Whence we may learn that it was a patriarchal custom to protect guests from violence. Scripture gives us the example of protecting our guests from harm.

Not only are we to entertain angels unaware but we are to offer them the protection and refuge from a world that is bent on harming them habitually, a world that can offer them no faith, no hope, and no love.

(3) That with joy and gladness we should minister abundantly to their necessities. Pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant. And Abraham said, Make ready quickly these measures of fine meal; and Abraham ran unto the herd. (Gen. xviii. 3, 6, 7) This history teaches us how with joy and gladness we ought abundantly to minister unto strangers.

We ought to be hospitable because it gives us opportunity to minister God’s Grace to others, to share the Gospel truth, the impart mercies and kindnesses from the heart of God to others, so that they might know that there is a God in Heaven who loves them and longs for their salvation.

III. On the third head it is to be noted that three evils are incurred by those who are unwilling to exercise hospitality.

(1)They are here punished by the Lord. Others, indeed, received not strangers unknown to them, but these brought their guests into bondage that had deserved well of them. And not only so, but in another respect also they were wise; for the others against their will received strangers, but these grievously afflicted them whom they had received with joy. But they were struck with blindness. (Wis. xix. 13-16) 

Scripture teaches us that those who are not hospitable to strangers will suffer and perish. If we do not treat others with generosity, kindness, compassion, pity, and hospitality, we shall be punished either here, hereafter, or at both times.

(2) They shall be confounded in the judgment. I was a stranger, and ye took me not in. (St. Matt. xxv. 43)

This is not a pious platitude. It is a promise. If we have not done this, we shall be judged. Being kind and hospitable to our friends is exactly what the heathen do. If we have not been kind to strangers, aliens, outcasts, and foreigners, we shall be judged unworthy of Christ’s Kingdom.

(3) They shall be shut up in an evil habitation. Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. (St. Matt. xxv. 4)

If we have not be hospitable to the least of these Christ’s brethren, we shall be damned.

  1. On the fourth head it is to be noted that for three reasons we ought to be given to hospitality.

(1)By doing this we gain grace, as the woman of Samaria who talked with Christ.

In this illustration we find Jesus asking the Samaritan woman to give something to Him. She is tempted to think that He is too great to be waited upon because He is a Jew and she an outcast and alien. Yet, interestingly enough, Jesus uses her to show us that we are called to give back to Him because He is on our level and one with our nature. When we give back to others, we honor and worship the Christ in them. We gain Grace by ‘doing it to the least of these His brethren.’ We learn that Christ will break down all barriers between Heaven and Earth, and that Heaven’s children are made to be ministered to by the people of the earth.

(2) By doing this we frequently entertain Saints and Angels. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebr. xiii. 1)

We might be entertaining those whose special prayers and graces can benefit us reciprocally. Emissaries sent from God have a blessing to bestow upon us. They wear disguises but we must see that they are sent from God to assist us in our salvation.

(3) By doing this, we shall be received into an eternal, heavenly, and glorious habitation. I was a stranger, and ye took me in Come, ye blessed children of My Father, inherit the Kingdom. (St. Matt. xxv. 33, 34)

Christ comes in all sorts of guises. Are we ready to make a substantial return on what He give to us by giving to others? In other men’s hearts He is dying to come alive through the operation of our kindness and hospitality.  

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