“Luke 19: 5, in today’s Gospel, is every hotelier’s dream, when Jesus tells Zacchaeus, “Today I must stay at your house.” In my industry days (everyone knows I was in hospitality before I joined the Capuchin Franciscans, right?) this is what we’d call a “hard booking.” If there were theatre tickets or dinner reservations or an airport pick-up attached to the booking, we knew there was a high likelihood the party would come in. Jesus booked dinner, so we’d know he’d need the overnight. It was often the case, especially on the weekends, that bookings were soft, that a party would reserve at our hotel as a sort of hedge – maybe they were iffy about the trip; maybe they wanted a back-up in case they didn’t like the other place; maybe a secretary or personal assistant was covering their bases for an unpredictable boss. There were many more variables in the time before Yelp and Trip Advisor. That said, no promotional considerations have been made in the preparation of this post. And take a hint from an old pro: use the concierge, especially pre-arrival.
Jesus’ booking with Zacchaeus is hard because Jesus is truth and because every word God speaks is truth (Psalm 135: 6), plus the dinner res. But what of the fine points of the booking, the attention to detail that should cue Zacchaeus as to what kind of guest experience Jesus is seeking? The key – and the example – is in the word “must.” It’s a cue to the tax collector, but it’s a command for us, to welcome the stranger (Lev 19: 34), to treat hospitality not as an industry or a sector of the economy but as a cornerstone of our Catholic Christian vision and the basis for our actions toward our sisters and brothers.
Be not confused by advertisements or advertorials (in fact, be wary of the latter) or loyalty programs or miles or points: before it became a business, hospitality was and remains a virtue, grounded in the habitus of seeing Christ in everyone, and loving neighbor as self. Here’s another industry term, this from the airlines: VFR, for “visiting friends and relatives.” Airlines segment the market in terms of VFR and corporate travel. One is price-sensitive, the other not so much. Opening our homes, or our nation, is how we answer the call to serve not just the VFR “market,” those we know and love, but all people. The former is easy (Mt 5: 46), the latter not so much. It requires sacrifice and mindfulness. Think of what’s happening in Germany, and with Chancellor Merkel, who truly led by exhorting and encouraging the people, “Wir schaffen das (We can do it),” when her government made space and set aside funds to accept tens of thousands of refugees from the war in Syria. Now she risks being turned out of office in the face of an anti-immigrant backlash. Welcoming an unexpected stranger, and allowing himself to be transformed by the experience, is what Zacchaeus did, and it was what Jesus of Nazareth depended on when he walked. If Zacchaeus can do it, wir schaffen das.