“A Hundred Thousand Welcomes” is how it translates from Irish Gaelic. It is commonplace in the west of Ireland as door plaques, similar to the Welcome mats you’ve wiped your feet on so many times here, but slightly more poetic. Failte means welcome, one of the most basic words in the English language. When did I learn that word? When did you? I can’t remember. Until today I had never had cause to look it up in the dictionary because the word is inextricably placed in my vocabulary. But every definition of it includes words like pleasure, glad, kindly, greeting, accept, receive, desirable. All positive. And when we feel welcome, we feel wanted, accepted, cared for, a sense of belonging. Who doesn’t want that?
More and more, I’m coming to see welcome as a type of love. It’s not always love the way we usually think of these days--something you feel for someone you know very well; instead, this love is more of an action, something we do to make someone else feel welcome, and it is often directed toward people we barely know and even total strangers. And sometimes even people we don’t like, people whose lives are odious, people who offend our sensibilities. To welcome people is to forgive all of the differences and sometimes all of the similarities, and to make people feel acceptable, receivable, desirable, and significant. To welcome people is to love them. It’s as simple as that.
And loving people is the high calling of all followers of Christ. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength,” Christ said when asked what the greatest commandment was. “And the second,” he continued, “is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 paraphrased). Another time, a lawyer would ask a question about this command that would echo through the ages: “Just who is my neighbor?” To this, Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan and asked at the end, “Who do you think was the injured man’s neighbor?” The lawyer answered correctly that the neighbor was “The one who showed mercy” (Luke 10:25-37 paraphrased). Through his story, Jesus turns the question inside out; the question should not be about peerage or worthiness, but rather about mercy. It’s not “Who is my neighbor?” but “To whom am I a neighbor?” To whom will I show mercy? To whom will I show love? Whom will I welcome? Christ has welcomed all and he has called us to do the same.