'Abraham saw three men standing near him....He ran to meet them and said, "Do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be yourselves...."' -- Genesis 18:2-4

After I saw the movie "High Noon" at the age of 12, I found myself for a least a day and a half trying to walk like Gary Cooper.

I probably wasn't alone. Movie heroes normally engender imitation. That's why the most popular motion picture hero of all time is "To Kill a Mockingbird's" Atticus Finch: Almost everyone would like to imitate this fictitious hero's unprejudiced personality.

The imitation of heroes didn't start with movies. Our sacred authors utilized this concept thousands of years ago. It's behind this Sunday's and next Sunday's Genesis readings. The writer depicts Abraham and Sarah as ideal Jews in both passages, demonstrating characteristics which good Israelites are or should be noted for.

This week's characteristic (Genesis 18:1-10a) is hospitality.

Though the three strangers come at siesta, a most inappropriate time, Abraham doesn't wait for them to ask for hospitality. He rushes over and begs them to "let" him take care of them.

Then, with Sarah's help, he "picks out a tender, choice steer" and prepares it for them with all the side dishes. (Scripture scholars believe the three strangers are Yahweh in human form, a unique entity that no one human being can represent.)

Relying on hospitality
In a world in which there were no hotels or restaurants as we know them today, travelers depended on people's hospitality for survival. Our biblical writer reasons that, if Israelites are Yahweh's chosen people, then Israelites must mirror Yahweh's concern and care for all people. The first two Jews mirror that care and concern.

The sacred author even tells us about the reward Abraham and Sarah receive for their generous hospitality: "One of [the strangers] said, 'I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.'" Sarah's barrenness is over. Yahweh will demonstrate the same generosity with this couple as the couple demonstrated to the three travelers.

This isn't the only time in Scripture that hospitality is given an unexpected reward. Our Gospel (Luke 10:38-42) provides another classic example.

Luke revolves much of his Gospel around a journey Jesus and His disciples take from Galilee to Jerusalem. They, like the three Genesis visitors, are also travelers, frequently dependent on people's hospitality.

In this Sunday's passage, sisters Martha and Mary offer Jesus a meal as He's passing through their village. He not only accepts, He spends the time while the food's being prepared in teaching His Good News.

Then, when Martha complains that her sister is listening to His teaching instead of helping with the cooking, He rewards them for their hospitality by gifting them and all women with something which, in their culture, only men were expected to possess: the ability to engage in the "better part." They, like men, could be full disciples, fully listening to and carrying out Jesus' teaching.

One really doesn't know what to expect when one offers hospitality to others. For the author of Colossians (1:24-28), that offering is ongoing. It never stops. "Filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, the church" is always part of every Christian's ministry.

Just as Abraham, Sarah, Martha and Mary discovered a new direction in their lives when they gave themselves to others, so we, following their example, have no idea what to expect when we imitate them.

No wonder our ancestors in the faith found life so exciting!