The Grace of Hospitality

וַיֹּאמַר:  אֲדֹנָי, אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ–אַל-נָא תַעֲבֹר, מֵעַל עַבְדֶּךָ

“And he, Abraham, said, “My Lord, if I have found grace in your eyes, please do not pass by your servant” (Gen. 18:3).

The rabbis tell us a trait shared by the descendants of Abraham is hospitality; a manner or disposition that is hospitable to both guest and stranger alike.

This derives from the opening verses of Genesis 18; as Abraham lay at the door of his tent on the third day after his circumcision. The Lord appears to him, and as Abraham lifts his eyes, there before him are three men. From the unfolding narrative it is easy to determine that this is a theophany.

As Abraham says, speaking in the singular to a plural party, “My Lord, if I have found grace in your eyes … “ he welcomes them to settle in the shade of a tree, showing the kindness of hospitality.

Our English word hospitality is derived from the Latin hospes, which means guest, stranger, even host. It appears to be a word of relationship between otherwise disconnected parties. Hospes shares its root with another English word, hostile; in biblical faith one should meditate on the conditions that bring us to hospitality or hostility.

In ancient times, travelers meandering on their journey had two choices: 1) rely on their own skills to make suitable accommodations, or 2) rely on the kindness of a local host; as the Holiday Inn Express was not yet a thing.

In our text above, Abraham does not wait for the Lord to seek his kindness; no, Abraham opens his doors as evidence of the grace he has received – by His presence.

Time and again the Torah instructs us to welcome, and care for the stranger; because we have been the stranger, the newcomer, the unknown other. It is a disposition rooted in grace itself, as Abraham notes.

The Torah commands us to “love our neighbor as ourself” (Lev. 19:18) only once; but it commands us to love the stranger thirty-six times. Strange, but not. We are inclined to love those known, familiar or similar to us. This familiarity would naturally stir hospitality; where unfamiliarity might stir up hostility. The two, as noted above, are very close.

Yet, by faith in Messiah we are new creations; and unfamiliar, as it were, to everyone, except those of like Spirit. Still more, that new Spirit of God, now in us, causes us to seek the lost, the unfamiliar, or the stranger to heavens door: Messiah.

All too often we give in to our fearful, unregenerate disposition, informed not by the Word of God, but media manipulation.

Paul directs us, “Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God” (Ro. 15:7).

“Receive one another,” means: take to yourself the other. This we find in Messiah, who took us to Himself by grace. We share in this grace when we take the other to ourself following His example. Abraham, in Genesis 18, took the Lord to himself. He welcomed the Lord in, ministered to Him by shelter, comfort, and food; and the Lord shared the long awaited good news: the promised child is coming.

What good do we receive as we welcome, or open our hearts to the stranger before us? The promised Son meets us once again in the eyes of a stranger.

And if you are in Messiah, as Paul writes, you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to promise (Gal. 3:29). In Messiah, not only do we live as strangers and sojourners to this world, but we welcome others along the way as well.

Hospitality does not improve our standing in heaven, it glorifies God on earth in a time when it is a dangerous thing to be a stranger. To Him be the glory. Amen.

Be well. Shalom.

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