The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. (google.com)
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2, ESV)
A more direct translation of Hebrews 13:2 is, “Of hospitality be not forgetful, through this indeed unawares some have entertained angels.” That word – hospitality – is translated from the Greek philoxenia. According to Dr. Mike Burer, “It’s a compound word which combines the noun for friend (philos) and a noun which could mean either hospitality or stranger/alien (xenia). Put them together and you get the idea: either treating a stranger like a friend, or providing hospitality to a friend.”
Based on the rest of the verse, this is the idea the author of Hebrews was instructing his audience of late 1st century Christians: Treat strangers like friends. In the context of the late 1st century, this probably meant inviting traveling strangers into your home to eat and sleep. I would be unlikely to invite complete strangers into my home to stay. It’s a condition of the times. So how can a modern Christian live out this exhortation?
When I see my friends, I greet them warmly. I want them to know I am happy to see them! I ask them about their lives, and I listen with interest. And I often do invite them into my home – frequently to eat, and occasionally to sleep. I cheerfully take on the house-cleaning and food preparation that signals to my guests: I am glad you are here! I want you to feel happy and comfortable. I want you to stay as long as you’d like. I am sensitive to your needs and will do what I can to accommodate you.
I do not often extend this to strangers with which I have occasion to interact. My introverted nature is on high alert in the presence of strangers, and it takes an extreme amount of energy to break through that self-imposed barrier to treat strangers as friends, especially when the interpersonal stakes and potential for rejection are high. Too often, I think to myself, “Someone more extroverted and well-spoken will greet that new person at church”, or, “That person probably doesn’t want to talk to me anyway,” or frequently, “Rather than get stuck in a conversation consisting of mind-numbing small talk with someone I don’t know, I’ll just sit here and look at my phone like I’ve got something terribly important to do….”
When Ericka asked me to write my thoughts on hospitality, I was planning on writing my thoughts on how to be a good hostess, and although related to hospitality, being a good hostess does not necessarily make one hospitable. For those friends I do invite into my home, I manage quite well as a hostess. I find it enjoyable – the planning, the preparation, the eating and drinking and the merry-making. It fills up my heart to make other people happy with food and conversation. But am I extending this to those who I do not (yet) call my friends? To strangers and newcomers? Or do I hide behind my sinful nature, afraid of rejection or unpleasant entanglement?
As with all other virtues, I will never perform this perfectly. I will practice hospitality. I would like to be a more hospitable person to strangers. How wonderful it is when you are the stranger, and someone makes you feel warmly welcomed! It is such a spirit-lifting experience to make a connection with a stranger who smiles at you, talks to you, asks you about yourself and seems interested in listening to you. It can transform your day, and in some cases it can transform your life. What barriers do I need to knock down in order to approach others that way? You never know who they might be, or what impact you might have.
Step 1: Smile more often.