When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. [Romans 12:13 (NLT)]
As far back as you want to go in the history of God’s people, one of the duties of the righteous was hospitality—by which I mean the willingness to welcome people into your home who don’t ordinarily belong there. [John Piper]
In the ancient world, travel was dangerous and the nomadic people of Israel took hospitality seriously. It was the way to transform an unknown person (who might pose a future threat) into a guest and a friend. Hospitality was an integral part to many of the Old Testament’s stories. Both Abraham and Lot welcomed strangers into their home. Rebekah gave water to Abraham’s servant, watered his camels, and then offered food for the animals and rooms for the night. Rahab gave lodging and protection to the Israelite spies, Manoah and his wife fed the stranger who visited them, the widow of Zarephath gave her last morsel of food to Elijah, and the Shunammite woman provided food and a room for the prophet Elisha whenever he passed through Shunem. Abigail generously provided food for David and his band of men and David welcomed Jonathon’s crippled son Mephibosheth at his table as a way of showing God’s kindness.
The tradition of hospitality extended into the 1st Century. Matthew welcomed Jesus, the disciples, and his tax collector friends at his table. When Jesus sent out his disciples in Luke 9, he deliberately sent them out with no provisions and told them to depend on the hospitality of others as they travelled from town to town. Jesus probably stayed with Peter’s family when he was in Capernaum, both Zacchaeus and Martha welcomed Jesus into their homes, and a nameless man provided the upper room of his home to Jesus and the disciples for their Passover supper. Christian hospitality continued as the new church expanded. Paul and his companions stayed with Publius in Malta and Lydia in Philippi, Peter stayed with Simon the Tanner in Joppa, and John commended Gaius for his hospitality to Christian teachers.
Simon the Pharisee probably had a nicer home, more servants, richer food, and better wine than any of those other hosts but, when he invited Jesus to dinner, he was anything but hospitable. Although guests traditionally were greeted with a kiss, given a bowl of water with which to wash the dust off their feet, and offered some perfumed oil for their hair, Simon failed to extend any of these customary courtesies to Jesus. He may have addressed Jesus as “Teacher,” but the narrative makes it clear Jesus was there to be questioned rather than welcomed. There may have been a meal but there was no hospitality that night at Simon’s.
Unbeknown to Abraham, Lot, and Manoah, the strangers they welcomed into their homes were angels of the Lord. But, even if we never welcome angels in our homes, we may have men and women whose very presence is a blessing. Who knows? We may even turn a potential enemy into a friend!
We always treat guests as angels…just in case. [Jeremiah of Wallachia (1556 – 1625)]