Entertaining strangers

“Do not forget to entertain strangers. . . ” (Hebrews 13:2 NKJV).

We were not exactly strangers, since we had visited with Subi’s family before, but we were definitely foreigners. After a long drive to reach their village we came into their garden (as they call their “yards” in Asia) to find carpenters working on a new bed. They told us that they knew the old bed in the room we would stay in was too small for us so they wanted us to have more space.

These are not wealthy people, in fact they are by any standards very poor. But they not only wanted to share what they had with others, they wanted to provide even better than what they had used for themselves. I learned a new standard of hospitality, one that I believe is much closer to the teaching of Scripture than our Western conception, which is more likely to involve a polite offer of a cup of coffee than anything approaching inconvenience or sacrifice on the part of the host.

In the ancient world of the Bible, strangers were often at the mercy of the residents of the area in which they traveled. The local people not only outnumbered the visitors; they also controlled access to water, easy routes of travel, and the best places of shelter and security. A weary traveler could do little other than hope that those occupying the area would be friendly and willing to share.

It is significant that hospitality made up a critical part of biblical morality. This is demonstrated in the case of ancient Sodom. We typically equate that condemned city’s sins only with her sexual perversions. However, note this judgment from the prophet Ezekiel: “Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: she and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49). The next verse mentions Sodom’s “abominations” but the sins that are specifically detailed are greed and selfishness. She would not share with those in need.

It often seems that one’s willingness to share is inversely proportional to the amount he has. That is, the poor are more generous than the rich. James seems to have found this to be the general rule. “You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth” (James 5:4). Earlier he had asked those who showed preferential treatment to the wealthy, “Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?” (James 2:6).

While traveling in remote and poverty stricken areas of the world, we have often been treated with the utmost in kindness and generosity. We have been housed in the best rooms, fed meals which our hosts could afford only rarely, and received with open and obvious respect and affection.

Though I cannot speak for everyone, it is certainly true that for me, hospitality had to be experienced to be truly appreciated. It is far easier to understand its meaning and importance when one has had the need, and had it generously supplied.

My hosts were definitely not entertaining angels, but I don’t know if angels would have been any more appreciative. And because of their generosity they will receive their reward with the angels.

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