Saturday of Week 32 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 3 John 5-8

Like yesterday’s reading, today’s, from the Third Letter of John, is also very short, and is a genuine letter. It is addressed to a Christian called Gaius, about whom we know nothing, and again the author is simply identified as “the Elder” or “Presbyter”. Unlike Letters 1 and 2, Letter 3 does not touch on the major issues of love and right teaching, but deals primarily with the question of hospitality shown to travelling preachers.

In Letter 2, the Christians in the church to whom the letter was written, were urged not to give hospitality to people who were preaching unacceptable doctrines about Christ. In this letter the opposite problem seems to exist. A person called Diotrephes, who refuses to accept the authority of the Elder, seems to be refusing hospitality to teachers sent into his territory. He even excommunicated those who gave such hospitality.

In contrast, the letter praises Gaius for the hospitality that he has been giving to “brothers”, travelling preachers, who were sometimes complete strangers and were a feature of the Church at this time. As most local churches were small and isolated, it was necessary for them to be visited by competent people sent by the apostles to bring them up to an acceptable understanding of the Christian life.

Local churches were expected to provide hospitality and support to such visiting missionaries. Paul generally did not avail of material help because he preferred to support himself, but he did emphasise that he had a right to such support. But, he would certainly have availed himself of accommodation offered to him. Jesus speaks about this also in his discourse to his disciples who were being sent out on mission (Matt 10:5-15).

This, of course, is completely in harmony with Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel. The final judgement will be made on the basis of how we treated strangers, especially those in need or the marginalised. In crime-ridden cities of the “developed” West, the keeping of this commandment becomes ever more of a challenge. But, it must not be set aside.

Gaius’ behaviour is a model of Christian charity, and he is further urged even to give them the help they need to get to their next destination. The preachers deserve this hospitality because they do so purely for the sake of the name, that is, the name of Jesus and his Gospel, and without any remuneration. They depend entirely for their support on the Christian communities they come to help and serve, and they get help from no one else. By offering them hospitality, the community is making its contribution to their work of spreading the Gospel message.

In our time too, we are expected to help support those who give of themselves for full-time to the work of the Gospel. And, in most places, people are indeed very generous in supporting their clergy and religious. With the increase of more and more lay people devoting themselves full-time to evangelising and voluntary work with the Church, they too deserve from us the basic support they need in terms of shelter, food and other necessities.

As mentioned above, hospitality, which is still an essential practice in some parts of the world, has become a real problem in more developed societies. It is regarded as foolish and naive to trust the stranger. As a result, our homes are heavily secured with locks and alarms and we are slow to open the door to anyone except those personally known to us. Is this the price of ‘civilisation’ in an ‘advanced’ country?

We offload the responsibility of taking care of the poor, the homeless and the victims of addiction to social welfare bodies. We are willing to help by giving money, but not to giving our Christian love by reaching out to them on a person-to-person basis. Sometimes we may even avoid contact with a family member who has fallen between the cracks. The feared criticism of strangers can make us strangers even to our own flesh and blood.

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