It’s hard not to think again back to the different mysteries we’ve celebrated this week when we read today in Peter’s first letter about the importance of hospitality. The whole Christian mystery is warmly enveloped in the human experience of hospitality. Last Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity and one of the most famous and celebrated passages from the Old Testament that evokes this mystery sees it enveloped in the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah. The Trinity receives this hospitality of Abraham in the Old Covenant, and in the New Covenant, as if in response to Abraham’s generous welcome Jesus goes to prepare a place to welcome us in His Father’s house. Jesus’ most intimate moment with His disciples is at a meal where he shares all that He is and all that He has with them. Jesus is the Host in every sense of the word. Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of the Visitation where the first moment of Christian hospitality is shared by Mary and Elizabeth with great jubilation.
Today’s Gospel further illustrates the importance of hospitality. The fig tree, full of leaves has no fruit to offer Jesus! He came at the wrong time! Come back in a few months Jesus – then we’ll have fruit ready for you! It is symbolically the same thing that happens when He enters the temple. The business being conducted in the temple has made it cease to function as the home and dwelling place of God. God would like to receive us, would like to receive the fruit of our loving prayer when we enter His house, but we’ve become efficient and businesslike in our dealings with Him. Imagine the husband who brings his work home with him, answering work related phone calls during dinner and all evening, working on his computer, talking about his work, half-listening to any other conversation, etc. The wife says, “My house shall be a house of love for the whole family!” We hear the same sentiment echoed in Jesus’, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples!” As the mystery of the Trinity and the experience of hospitality are enmeshed, we understand that the Trinity is our true home and that this mystery must seep into the hospitality we show to others: in season and out of season. Hospitality is the fruit we taste as we participate in the divine life of the Trinity. Christ hungers for this same fruit from us as He meets us in our brothers and sisters.
Peter says this so that you will not be fooled into thinking that judgment is a long way off or even that it will never come. Its timing may be uncertain, as far as we are concerned, but it is sure to come sooner or later.1
CLEMENT OF ROME:
Love unites us to God. Love hides a multitude of sins. Love puts up with everything and is always patient. There is nothing vulgar about love, nothing arrogant.… Without love, nothing can please God.2
LEO THE GREAT:
Nothing is stronger against the wiles of the devil, dearly beloved, than the kindness, mercy and generosity of love, through which every sin is either avoided or conquered.3
If you receive your neighbor as though he were Christ, you will not complain or feel embarrassed but rather rejoice in your service. But if you do not receive him as if he were Christ, you will not receive Christ either, because he said: “Whoever receives you, receives me.” If you do not show hospitality in this way, you will have no reward. Abraham received passers-by and travelers just as they were. He did not leave them to his servants. On the contrary, he ordered his wife to bring flour, even though he had domestic help. But he and his wife wanted to earn the blessing, not only of hospitality but of service also. This is how we ought to show hospitality, by doing all the work ourselves, so that we may be sanctified.4
Note that when Peter mentions love he immediately goes on to talk about offering hospitality without grumbling. That is a sure sign of what love is.5
BRAULIO OF SARAGOSSA:
Our creator and dispenser so orders all things that love is increased when the divine gifts which one does not see in himself are bestowed to be possessed by another. Thus the manifold grace of God is well dispensed when the gift received is believed to belong also to the one who does not have it and when it is believed to have been given for the sake of him with whom it is shared.6
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA:
Those who offer hospitality to others make themselves happy and content, not so much because they are giving of their own as because they are being helped by others. And this in two ways; first, because they enjoy the company of their guests, and second, because they earn a reward for their hospitality. But if you receive a brother, do not be distracted by too much serving, and do not attempt what is beyond your strength. Unnecessary effort is always tedious, and such exertions will only embarrass your guests. Do not let your guest become a cause for impoverishing yourself, but even in hard times be as generous as you can.7
HILARY OF POITIERS:
How could this be, that he who was able to strike the green tree dead merely by his word could also have a nature that could hunger?7 This was the mystery of his hunger, grief, and thirst, that the Word was assuming flesh. His humanity was entirely exposed to our weaknesses, yet even then his glory was not wholly put away as he suffered these indignities. His weeping was not for himself, his thirst was not for water, nor his hunger merely for food. He did not eat or drink or weep just to satisfy his appetites. Rather, in his incarnate humbling he was demonstrating the reality of his own body by hungering, by doing what human nature does. And when he ate and drank, it was not a concession to some necessity external to himself, but to show his full participation in the human condition.8
EPHREM THE SYRIAN:
The nature of the fig tree is such that when it is cut, because of its moisture, it [requires] many months for it to dry up. Our Lord chose it as a symbol, therefore, to make the quality of his power known through it. It is evident that the fig tree becomes moist and tender before the other trees. Hence our Lord said: “From the fig tree learn this parable. As soon as its branch becomes tender and opens up in the outer covering of its buds, you know that summer is near.” You see that he proposes it [as a symbol] because of its abundant moisture and its early buds.9
Wouldn’t you expect the maker of the fig tree to know what the ordinary orchard worker would know in a snap? So when he was hungry he looked for fruit on the tree, but he seemed to be looking for something more from this tree. He noted that the tree had no fruit, but was full of leaves. It was at that point that he cursed it, and it withered away. So what terrible thing had the poor tree done simply in not bearing fruit? Could the tree reasonably be faulted for its fruitlessness? No. But human beings who by their own free will decide not to bear fruit—that is a different matter. Those found wanting in accountability in this case are those who had the benefit of the law, which was meant to bear fruit, but they had no fruit to show for it. They had a full growth of leaves (the law), yet they bore no fruit (works of mercy).10
EPHREM THE SYRIAN:
He sought fruit from the fig tree at an inopportune time, that it might be a symbol of one who had deceitfully withheld the fruits of the law at the opportune time.[…]
Why, therefore, did he who was good and gentle, who everywhere revealed great things out of little things, and completion out of imperfection, why did he command the fig tree to dry up? For he healed the sufferings of everyone, changed water to wine, made an abundance from a little bread, opened the eyes of the blind, cleansed lepers and raised the dead to life. But this fig tree alone did he cause to wither. It was because the time of his suffering was near, and, lest it be thought that he was captured because he was unable to free himself, he cursed the fig tree, that it might be a sign for his friends, and a miracle for his enemies. Thus, the disciples would be strengthened by his word, and others would be amazed at his power. Because he did all things well, and [the time] for him to suffer was near, it might be thought, as indeed it was, that he was captured because he possessed no power. He showed in advance, therefore, by means of a living plant which he caused to wither, that he would have been able to destroy his crucifiers with a word.11
CYRIL OF JERUSALEM:
Just as he was headed toward the cross, he cursed the fig tree—not every fig tree, but that one alone for its symbolic significance—saying: “May no one ever eat fruit of you again.” In this way the curse laid upon Adam and Eve was being reversed. For they had clothed themselves with fig leaves.12
Prayer is an all-efficient panoply, a treasure undiminished, a mine never exhausted, a sky unobstructed by clouds, a haven unruffled by storm. It is the root, the fountain, and the mother of a thousand blessings. It exceeds a monarch’s power.… I speak not of the prayer which is cold and feeble and devoid of zeal. I speak of that which proceeds from a mind outstretched, the child of a contrite spirit, the offspring of a soul converted—this is the prayer which mounts to heaven.… The power of prayer has subdued the strength of fire, bridled the rage of lions, silenced anarchy, extinguished wars, appeased the elements, expelled demons, burst the chains of death, enlarged the gates of heaven, relieved diseases, averted frauds, rescued cities from destruction, stayed the sun in its course, and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt. In sum, prayer has power to destroy whatever is at enmity with the good. I speak not of the prayer of the lips, but of the prayer that ascends from the inmost recesses of the heart.13
While we are praying, there should be no hesitation that would intervene or break down the confidence of our petition by any shadow of despair. We know that by pouring forth our prayer we are obtaining already what we are asking for. We have no doubt that our prayers have effectually reached God. For to that degree that one believes that he is regarded by God, and that God can grant it, just so far will one be heard and obtain an answer.14
Let no day pass by without reading some portion of the sacred Scriptures, whenever you have time, and giving some space to meditation. Never cast off the habit of reading the holy Scriptures. Nothing feeds the soul and enriches the mind so much as those sacred studies.15
- ON 1 PETER. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 116). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS 49. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 116). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMONS 74.5. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 117). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- CATENA. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 117). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON 1 PETER. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 117). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- LETTERS 5. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 117). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- CATENA. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 118). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON THE TRINITY 10.24. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 150). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON TATIAN’S DIATESSARON. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 150). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMONS ON NEW TESTAMENT LESSONS 48.3. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 151). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON TATIAN’S DIATESSARON. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 151). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- CATECHETICAL LECTURES 13.18. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 152). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE NATURE OF GOD, HOMILY 5.44, 46, 57, 58. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 154). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- CONFERENCES 1.9.32. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 154). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- EPISTLE TO LUCIAN 9. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 155). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.