We all know that the answer to Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper” is “yes, of course.” The New Testament version of the question is, “who is my neighbour?” Shockingly, the answer appears to be all those who share our humanity. These questions requires us to answer a further question: How will we welcome the stranger?
There is fear associated with welcoming strangers and our modern lifestyle seems to hold neighbours at arm’s length. We no longer bump into neighbours as we walk but bypass them in our cars. We have delegated the care of the elderly neighbour to civic institutions and charities that employ professionals to care. Typically, we see more people but know them less. We have lost or are losing the ancient meeting places: the city gate, the village green, the community centre, the local church. Our TV’s teach us all about entertaining in our homes, but little about true hospitality.
At the centre of our understanding of hospitality has to be our understanding of Christ. Jesus, who as he hangs on the cross turns to a thief by his side and says, “today you will be with me in paradise”, demonstrates hospitality, just as he demonstrated in his life over and over again.
Christian hospitality is about responsibility, not reciprocity. It is about laying down ourselves as Christ did, without requirement of response.
Hospitality is a step of faith in a God who provides, be that protection or finances. In faith we welcome the stranger and feed the lonely, lost or wondering.
Hospitality is a response to our own salvation. When we remember that we, who were far away from God, have been drawn close to him. Ephesians 2:12
Hospitality is an act of witness. We are called to show the love of the Father for all the world, for ‘neighbours’, defined as those who share our humanity, rather than our geography, culture, social standing, language or friendly response. It reaches out to the ‘other’ in the name of Christ and in the way of Christ.
It will take a conscious effort on all our parts to break through the current cultural hesitancy to welcome strangers. Maybe we can start by simply showing hospitality to those in our congregations who need it most, by visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, going the extra mile to bring someone to church. Then we might feel ready to walk next door, or across the office, and reach out with the offer of community to those in our neighbourhood or network. Who knows, it may not be long before we are opening our homes to widows, orphans, the homeless or asylum seekers and discovering the presence of Christ in “the least of these.”