It was almost a year ago when a reader on this blog left a comment suggesting I read Arthur Sutherland’s small book called I Was A Stranger: A Christian Theology of Hospitality. That book sparked a very important effort at research into biblical hospitality on my part.
Personally, in my view, Sutherland’s book is not the most important work I found, but it does offer a different kind of framework for thinking about Christian hospitality and it’s role in the church and in God’s mission for saving the world and especially all of these things with regard to the poor and needy from any I found in church or Bible class. That alone is invaluable, I think, but then there are the powerful nuggets of insight he offers along the way. (The book does have some of those too!)
I want to quote the last two paragraphs off the last two pages from Sutherland here. The way he sums up his book is heartfelt, deep, and meaningful to say the least. Let’s give him a listen:
It is convicting to me that the Gospel writers used the rare word splagchnizomai to describe what Jesus felt when he encountered those on the margins (Matthew 20:34; Mark 1:41; 8:2; Luke 7:13). Greek speakers understood the word to mean “to be moved as to one’s bowels.” We would speak of “a feeling in the gut,” but it is difficult to give an adequate translation of the word. Jesus uses it once in speaking about forgiveness (the parable of the unforgiving servant, Matthew 18:21) and, significantly, twice in parables associated with hospitality (the good Samaritan and the prodigal son). More broadly, the Gospel writers want us to see that Jesus took into himself the pain and “dis-ease” of those on the borders of life. In this age where feeling another’s pain is either a tagline of the trite or mimicry of the mightless, we cannot let compassion become casual.
I once saw a picture of a young hitchhiker as she stood on the island of a busy street. Tall and gaunt, she bore the weary expression that we so often see carried by those who feel themselves on the margins of life. Clumped beside her feet were her bound possessions that appeared as rumpled as what she wore. All of this was, unfortunately, rather ordinary. Folk of her band are as common as the cars that passed her by. What made the picture compelling was the sign she held. Written on a piece of cardboard was a single word Anywhere. She asked not for Los Angeles, New York, or Miami. She asked not for home or to be taken away from home. All of this was a road to far. She simply asked, dare I say begged, to be taken not away, but in. If this is the case, that she wanted to be taken in and not just away, then she represents those who Jesus calls us to see. Hospitality is the practice by which the church stands or falls.
I Was A Stranger: A Christian Theology of Hospitality