After reading Arthur Sutherland’s I Was A Stranger last Christmas, I immediately looked up “Hospitality” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary and found John Koenig’s offering which then prompted me to purchase and read his book. The ABD article, though much shorter, covers the subject more broadly, actually, and in some respects excited me even more. At any rate, just finding this treasure hiding there in plain sight like that was such a huge blessing to me, and I recommend a look at it to any reader I might attract.
That said, I want to quote a couple of bits from Koenig’s ABD publication, and then copy my own notes of initial thoughts and reaction to it. I hope it gets others thinking, talking, and maybe even making changes in our world for God’s glory.
“…the word most often associated with ‘hospitality’ in the LXX and the NT is xenos, which literally means foreigner, stranger, or even enemy. In its derived sense, however, the term comes to denote both guest and host alike. Typically, the verb used to describe the extending of hospitality is xenizein (Sir. 29:25; I Macc. 9:6; Acts 10:23; Heb. 13:2). In the NT one who receives visitors is said to be philoxenos, i.e., a ‘lover of strangers,” or to be practicing the virtue of philoxenia (I Tim. 3:2; I Pet. 4:9; Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:2…).”
“Perhaps the most winsome of all reflections on hospitality by early Christian writers is found in Hebrews 13:2, where believers are urged to receive strangers graciously on the ground that ‘thereby some have entertained angels unawares.’ Clearly the allusion is to Abraham’s enthusiastic reception of the three heavenly messengers. But Jesus too may come as a stranger. Matthew, Luke, and John all make the point (Matt. 25:31-46; Luke 24:13-35; John 20:11ff.; 21:1-14). And so does the author of Revelation when he records the words of the Risen One to the church in Laodicea: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me’ (3:20). The context indicates that this meal with Jesus, like many of those narrated in the gospels, will be one of repentance and reconciliation.”
J. Koenig, ABD
Koenig’s offering is, of course, much more extensive than these paragraphs, and, for that matter, the notes I made initially by way of reaction are far more extensive than what I will share here too. Thus I hope that by paring these excerpts, as I am about to do, that they are not too disjointed for my readers here to find a meaningful experience. But it is a risk I am willing to take. My excitement about this research is boiling over, but I have practically no one to share it with (my church shuns me and so we don’t talk). But maybe a stray reader here and there will pop in on this blog and find some of the treasure I have to share.
From my notebook of chicken-scratch reactions and initial thoughts, here is my response(s):
Actually, there is SO MUCH here in this article to react to that I really must limit myself.
On the one hand, I am blown away by how richly validating this article is to the theological developments I have already worked out for myself over the last 5-8 years! I mean especially the end where Koenig ties together Matt. 25, Luke 24, and Rev. 3:20. I never saw those passages put together that way in ANY of the reading I have ever done before (that I can recall) and I came to do that myself all on my own. But to find them put together in this way – even with other passages I had not previously – and to find them in ABD no less(!!!) is deeply validating.
I recall as an undergrad Bible student that I was instructed to cite ABD at least once for every single Bible research paper I ever turned in for review. This resource was that highly regarded AND my instructors wanted to make sure us students were familiar with it.
This tells me that, even if the church leaders and professors, with whom I currently have so much opposition regarding my views on ministry to the homeless, EVEN IF they are unfamiliar with this particular article on hospitality by Koenig, they surely know and respect the resource there which validates SO POWERFULLY nearly 3/4 of my thesis that when we open our door and share a meal with the poor, we do so with Jesus AND THAT is a ministry to them, to us, and to the watching world!
Starting at the beginning… 1st, I am struck by the word xenos meaning STRANGER or even ENEMY and then getting translated as “HOSPITALITY.” The word HOSPITALITY in my world has become so benign, so tame, so tea-n-cookies. But Koenig puts it on the razors edge. His suggestion is that biblical hospitality – or dare we say Christian hospitality – refers particularly to the opening of our homes (and churches) to STRANGERS and ENEMIES.
Do I think we should limit our hospitality to strangers and enemies?
No. Not at all. And anyway, as the Koenig article bears out in the latter portion, welcoming ministers, missionaries, and church people will be included. However, the fact that the word itself centers on “stranger/enemy” very powerfully suggests that strangers/enemies must be included in hospitality specifically and purposely! They are not an after thought!
I gotta say: I certainly recall in my young adult years finding myself on the committee to appoint elders at our church and looking closely at passages like I Timothy as we determined “biblical qualifications” to be bishop. Of course we tried to give equal consideration to all of the features listed (such as one wife, believing children, etc.) and the directive that he be a hospitable man certainly was looked at. However, I sensed even then that the bit about hospitality didn’t get near as much scrutiny AND was largely deemed to mean the brother might open his home for a get-together with church friends after services for ice cream or watermelon once a year.
Thus this “qualification” was already treated as second rate to begin with, and there was NO – and I mean ABSOLUTLEY NO – consideration given to whether this candidate or that for elder opens his home to strangers or enemies.
None at all.
Even now, I expect that the idea is just so far off the radar of practically anyone I know that for me to suggest it has the potential to get me shunned.
But this quickly leads me to another reaction, but one that goes beyond anything Koenig mentions:
The way I see it, our modern, western culture is so riddled with pride and fear that those things really must be addressed BEFORE we can REALLY hear Koenig (and thus (it would seem) the Bible). The fact of the matter is that strangers and enemies SCARE US! This is the whole reason we have electronic security systems and dead bolt locks on our doors and windows. The WHOLE IDEA is to ensure that STRANGERS and ENEMIES DON’T GET INTO OUR HOMES where we are vulnerable.
I said that is the “whole reason” but that is not accurate. In truth, that is only about half the reason. We are not apt to admit this (and honestly it’s quite easy to hide this other half of our reason behind the previous half), but we are very proud people who work hard for the things and the homes we acquire. We get NICE THINGS and NICE HOMES and then it is very hard to think about sharing this NICE STUFF with strangers who might be beneath our contempt – the poor.
I mean, just think about a homeless man who hasn’t had a proper bath in a week or more sitting on your $1000 sofa and eating in your dining room off your fine china! You might never get the smell off your sofa and he might really drop and break your dishes for which he has no concept of their value!
Now just imagine he smells of piss!
Do you want this guy using your bathroom?
What exactly is he doing behind that closed door? Is he stealing? Is he pleasuring himself?? Can he aim his business in the toilet???
What is being achieved by THIS exercise of hospitality, REALLY?
I mean, if the bank president came for this meal, I might expect special treatment by the bank next time I have business there. If a politician came and enjoyed my hospitality, I might get some special attention for that tax break I am seeking! (It’s what lobbyists do!)
But if a bum comes for dinner… What possible good can come of it? Where would this lead?
Suddenly I can imagine all kinds of ways this might (and it seems probably will) go south!
First off, assuming the bum doesn’t steal or damage my property OR threaten or harm me (and/or my family), at the very least, he has NOTHING to give me. I will spend a week or more trying to get his smell out of my sofa and his piss off my floor. Odds are very high that he will hit me up for money (for booze no less) AND come back AGAIN and AGAIN. After all, if you feed a stray dog, you can’t hardly get rid of it after that.
But secondly, and honestly, I’d be an idiot to NOT CONSIDER the very real possibility that the bum might steal or harm my property or kill me.
THE FACT OF THE MATTER IS HOSTING THE STRANGER/ENEMY MAKES US COMPLETELY
Yeah, so, I’m thinking that with all this static in the atmosphere, it’s almost impossible to hear what Koenig and/or the Bible has to say. And this static is not being addressed in Bible class, in Bible college, in books like When Helping Hurts, or hardly anywhere else either…
…by the open markets of commerce that sell us insurance policies, home security systems, suspense movie/thrillers and protectionist politics.
Yeah, those sources all have a LOT to say on the subject while the church sits quietly by not protesting or taking the lead either way. The church is ducking for cover right at the point she has something substantial to offer the world!
Even Koenig only barely alludes to this stuff, and even then, pretty much only as far as his translation observations on xenos. Hospitality in the Bible is directed to the STRANGER/ENEMY.
I’m thinking we need to examine WHY that is – or better yet – what such hospitality achieves in God’s hands.
I make this/these brief and preliminary observation(s) at this early stage in the research process – with an eye toward further development to follow:
I notice, with careful observation, Koenig’s frequent assertion that this biblical hospitality (and particularly the meal it centers on) prompts divine revelation. SOMETHING or SOMEONE is frequently revealed in the meal – the Eucharist. Not always, for as Hebrews 13:2 indicates, there are times when the Angels in fact are NOT revealed, but nevertheless, the biblical norm (if we can call it that) actually goes the other way and APOCALYPSE happens during the meal (or because of the meal).
Well… as we just noted above, this meal/hospitality in which all this revelation occurs is also heavily characterized by VULNERABILITY.
Want to have an “ENCOUNTER” with God? (Don’t you just love that word “encounter”? It’s a good Christian buzzword.)
Well, that generally occurs in a context of intense vulnerability!
Certainly the cross of Christ bears this out! Wanna see Jesus? Go to the cross and REALLY SEE JESUS – GOD! He is the one taking all the shame, pain, and despair. But if you see GOD in that, then you are accepting VULNERABILITY too.
Seriously. Stand there among all the scoffers at the crucifixion that day, and I dare you to turn to them and say, “Surely this man is the SON OF GOD!”
The moment you do, you indict the whole system that put him there and risk the scorn of every person in that system!
Yeah. This stuff is THAT KIND of foundational. And of course Jesus tells us that if we want to be his disciples, we must take up our cross and follow him.
Perhaps that is a part of the message we need to stress before we get to talking about biblical/Christian hospitality. For surely anyone who finds value in a dead (or dying) Jew-boy on a Roman cross can also begin to imagine why/how hosting a bum – a stranger/enemy – in your home/assembly and sharing the celebration meal with them has value too – in fact MORE VALUE than sharing your hospitality with the bank president or your favorite politician.
In the midst of this vulnerability as you share the meal with a stranger you otherwise have reason to fear or hold in contempt, you can EXPECT a divine revelation!
Now there are times that you will be entertaining Angels unaware! But there are also times (Gen. 18) when God himself comes and reveals his plan for your life (even as you laugh at his bum who reveals it to you like Sarah!). Or there are times when that stranger (Luke 24) reveals that actually he is Jesus himself risen from the grave!
And we must not neglect to notice that if the stranger turns out to be a gracious guest after all – AND ESPECIALLY if he reciprocates your hospitality with favor of his own given back to your display of vulnerable kindness and charity – THEN he is revealing his true character to you!
It might be that he is discovering his true character at the same time himself! I mean, think about it. Street bums don’t get vulnerable hospitality from people they don’t know very often, and so it is entirely reasonable that IF this bum is confronted with the kindness, the generosity, the charity of heaven (as it is worked out in YOUR obedient hospitality to the stranger/enemy) that he might be finding his truest character being revealed to him too! In fact, this would be true whether he repays you with good or evil!
all that is true, then it is also true that YOUR TRUE CHARACTER as a child of God is being revealed to you as well – AND to the bum – AND TO THE WATCHING WORLD!
It occurs to me that all this REVELATION Koenig writes about is far more real and powerful and multidimensional than even Koenig suggest.