Hospitality July 20, 2022

Jim Forest: The Hospitality Of Abraham And Sarah / flickr

Hospitality has an important place in the Christian life. We are meant to recognize the inherent dignity of other by treating them with respect. This is why we are meant to welcome others when they come to us, a principle which was recognized by the earliest Christians. “Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another” (1 Ptr. 4:9 RSV). To encourage Christians to follow what they should naturally be inclined to do, the author of the book of Hebrews said that when we welcome strangers, we never know who we might end up welcoming: it could be angels (cf. Heb. 13:1-2).[1] We shouldn’t be concerned about the identity of those who come to us. Everyone, because of the good which can be found in them by their existence as well as by their nature, has something in them which we should respect.  Everyone has the image and likeness of God in them, and so by honoring them by showing them our hospitality, we treating God with that same hospitality. While some could suggest the kinds of rewards we might receive by doing so, in reality, we shouldn’t be concerned about them; we should act out of the goodness of our heart, for in this way, we follow after Christ who welcomed us and made room for us in the kingdom of God out of his own goodness and love (cf. Rom. 15:7).

It is not always easy to be hospitable. Not only do the ways various people act make it difficult for us to discern the good which remains in them, the good which should make us welcome them with hospitality if and when they come to us in need, we often find ourselves caring less about those who are in need, even if they can be shown to be of good character. All too often Christians, who should know better, act against the dictates of charity and show hostility instead of hospitality to those who come to them for help. We can see this in the way so many of them treat refugees or other immigrants who come to their countries seeking shelter and aid. Instead of welcoming them into their countries, Christians tell them that they are not welcome, that they must move on and find a different place to live, preferably one which is far, far away. Christians who act this fashion think they have good reasons to do so, but when those reasons are examined, they are shown to be riddled with unjust prejudices and biases. Sadly, such Christians, when they are told what Scripture expects of them, when they are told they should take care of the need of strangers and those who are oppressed, bigotry gets the best of them, for their biases have made them closed-minded, making them unwilling to embrace others with the love and compassion which Christ told them to give. They will defend themselves with all kinds of ungodly explanations, but in the end, when their opinions are challenged, they do not listen, as they do not want to understand, they just want to stand by their bigotry no matter what. They don’t care if what they say and do will lead to others being hurt or killed; they only care about themselves, and their own wants and needs. But if they listen, if they hear the plight of those in need, some will repent and realize how bad their opinions, their prejudices were; but for their repentance to be true, it will be done, not just with words, such as blanket apologies, it will be done with deeds, as they will make restitution and help those whom they previously neglected and abused.

It’s not always strangers who can suffer because of how closedminded we can be. Sometimes it can be close friends and family, people who unwisely have placed their trust in us. This is because we do not want things to change. We want things to be remain as they are, Those who challenge the status quo in our lives require us to move beyond the peace we have established for ourselves, the peace which we have embraced, and look to the common good and act on its behalf, even if it means we have to give up our sense of peace. Sadly, instead of listening to them and what they have to say, we close ourselves off from them, putting up barriers which should never be built. Our foolishness gets the best of us. This is exactly what happened with a monk, which some think was Arsenius, who did not treat his disciple well:

The same monk [Arsenius ?] used to say that there was a certain old man who had a good disciple. Through narrowmindedness he drove him outside with sheepskin. The brother remained outside. When the old man opened the door, he found him sitting, and he repented saying, ‘O Father, the humility of your patience has overcome my narrowmindedness. Come inside and from now on you are the old man  and the father, and I am the younger and the disciple.’[2]

We are not told what caused the monk to disregard his disciple, but it is clear from what we are told, the monk was in the wrong. He drove his disciple out of his cell, hoping to get rid of him; instead, the disciple remained patiently at his door, hoping that, given time, the monk would change his mind and welcome him back in. What happened was beyond what the disciple ever considered: he proved himself to have embraced the ascetic discipline better than his teacher; he was compassionate and open-minded, and so, not only was he welcomed back by the monk, the monk said he wanted to be his disciple’s disciple, to  learn from him so he could truly change his ways and be better than he had been.

Sadly, many, if not most, Christians do not act like the monk. They can see the people they ignored, abused, and tossed to the side, they can see such people being patient and calm, looking up to them for help, only to walk on by and continue on with their bad-behavior. We see this in the way so many Christians in the United States, seeing refugees at their border, want to close the border, making sure such refugees remain as they were, without getting the help that they need. Instead of seeing all the long-suffering the refugees have had to endure to get where they are at, such Christians continue to look down upon them with spite, adding to their pain and sorrow. No wonder people think less of Christians when Christian act like this.  If they could look at those whom they have rejected and see Christ is in them, would they act the same? Or would they finally act like the monk who saw his disciple at his door and repent, bring them in, welcome them, and put them in a position of honor, finally giving them the kind of love which they should have had from the very beginning? So long as Christians seeks to justify themselves and their abuse, they will be far from Christ, no matter what they call themselves, as they will be casting Christ aside; but if they listen, if they finally realize what is expected of them and do it, they will give witness to Christ in the greatest possible way; this is why those who try to undermine social justice by saying evangelization is more important and should be the only concern of Christians show that they do not even care about evangelization. They want to use evangelization as an excuse to ignore their duty to their neighbor, saying that they have more important things to do than showing hospitality to the stranger. But if they can’t be hospitable, they can’t and won’t evangelize. And so, their argument is a farce, as they pit Christian duties against each other in order to make sure they don’t have to do anything. Do they not care what Jesus will say to them when they come before him and are asked why they have neglected the care and concern they should have for others? Do they, moreover, really believe in Jesus, or do they believe in some idol they have made for themselves, using it as a tool to squash others? We cannot answer for others, but we must make sure we do what we can to answer for ourselves, and that means, to be people who follow Christ, doing what he would have us do, showing love and respect to all, especially those who are in most need of it.

[1] The author of the Hebrews is probably thinking back to Abraham and Lot and the hospitality they showed to angels in the book of Genesis.

[2] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 210, [Sayings of an Abba Of Rome 2].


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