The Three Visitors
1 The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
3 He said, “If I have found favour in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. 4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.” “Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”
6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.” 7 Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8 He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
In the Cathedral of the Trinity St Sergius, in the city of Sergiyev Posad north of Moscow, there a very famous icon painted by Andrei Rublev (1370-1430). Rublev’s masterpiece expresses the Trinitarian nature God rooted in mutual humility and expressed in community.
Some traditions suggest these visitors were angels, representing God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but the plain text points us to the LORD himself appearing as three men. Abraham’s welcome is a typically Bedouin. He bows in greeting and implies that it would be a discourtesy if they were to decline his offer of refreshment. The offer to wash their feet reminds us of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet at the last supper (John 13:5-12), but it was also a common courtesy. Hospitality is simple courtesy.
It may have been so for Abraham, who insisted on feeding his three guests with freshly killed meat and homemade cakes, that he now went hungry. Abraham stood waiting while the strangers ate. He served them but did not presume to sit and eat with them. Hospitality can be costly.
Abraham’s actions remind us of Hebrew 13:2: ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing some have entertained angels without knowing it.’ Providing hospitality is an ancient principle of faith: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Matthew 25:35). Hospitality is akin to being a sacrament.
Almighty God, give us grace to be hospitable to friend and stranger alike. As we do, may they and we rest in your presence and share the community seen in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen