Usually I think about hospitality as preparing a meal for my friends or (ugh) cleaning my home before company arrives. There are other thoughts that come to mind, but most of them involve sharing a common space with people I know and love.
This morning, though, I stumbled across a fact that made me rethink what hospitality should be.
The Bible talks an awful lot about hospitality, not always directly, but certainly in terms of loving each other and following the Golden Rule. There are many scenes of dinners and gatherings with guests in both testaments. Hospitality was a huge deal in the ancient Near East and poor hospitality could lead to condemnation and death.
What's fascinating is that the Greek word for hospitality, the word used in the New Testament, is philoxenia, which literally means "love of the stranger." In other words, hospitality isn't just welcoming people we already know and like, it's expecting and making space for the stranger, the other.
It is the hospitality shown when Abraham warmly greets three strangers wandering through the desert and is blessed because of it. It is the hospitality shown in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, where a religious minority stops to care for a wounded man who belongs to a group that has avoided and shunned the Samaritans.
As I pondered the root of this Greek word, it struck me just how far from this idea we often are. Rather than loving strangers, we are encouraged to fear them. Our 24-hour news cycle especially loves to bombard us with stories that are filled with scary words and images. "This person/thing hurt/poisoned/stole from someone like you! Beware!" Politicians love to throw around the idea that the other side will destroy the world if given the chance. The overall message we are fed is that anyone who has a different religion, political opinion, sexuality, age, class, or education probably shouldn't be trusted and certainly not shown hospitality (at least not a hospitality that looks like "loving a stranger").
Certainly there are reasons and times to be cautious and act wisely, but I think there is a great difference between a posture that assumes anyone that's different is likely a threat and one that assumes most people are decent and worthy of respect.
Interestingly, Jesus came as a stranger into this world, unrecognizable as God because of how he was born and where he lived. John's gospel makes note of this and that most people "did not receive him." Jesus the stranger didn't find hospitality. But those who did welcome him became "children of God." In a sense, Christianity is based entirely on hospitality: on God's willingness to love us who are estranged and our willingness to love the strange God who shows up in a manger and dies on a cross.
And then we are asked to share that same hospitality with others on earth.
In this season, many of us are preparing to practice hospitality in our homes or to be received by the hospitality of others. Perhaps this Christmas season we can pause and consider what stranger we might welcome to our tables... and our hearts. Then the angels' proclamation of "Peace on earth! Goodwill to men!" might ring a little louder and richer.
From the Gray,
“If we can reach beyond the wisdom of this age into the foolishness of God, that foolishness will save.” -Rich Mullins, "Let Mercy Lead"