Week 6–“Who is ‘the Sojourner’”?: The Sin of Sodom—Angels Unawares

Thursday, April 6

“The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.  He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground.  He said, ‘My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.  Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.  Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said’” (Gen 18:1-5).

There is no specific word in biblical Hebrew for hospitality.  But in Greek, the word is philoxenia—that is, love for the stranger!  This word appears twice in the New Testament. In Romans 12:13, Paul commands his audience, “Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”  Hebrews 13:2 deliberately alludes to the story of Abraham and Lot in Genesis 18—19: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” I hear this passage in my head in the KJV: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Abraham did not know that the Lord was present in these three passers-by. He went out of his way to serve them because Abraham saw such hospitality as his calling and responsibility. In his sermon on Romans 12:13, the great early Christian preacher St. John Chrysostom (347-407 CE) praised Abraham and Lot as examples of radical hospitality:

Thus did Lot, thus Abraham. For he spent the whole day upon it, waiting for this goodly prey, and when he saw it, leaped upon it, and ran to meet them, and worshipped upon the ground, and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Thy sight, pass not away from Thy servant.” [Gen 18:3] Not as we do, if we happen to see a stranger or a poor man, knitting our brows, and not deigning even to speak to them. And if after thousands of entreaties we are softened, and bid the servant give them a trifle, we think we have quite done our duty. But he did not so, but assumed the fashion of a suppliant and a servant, though he did not know who he was going to take under his roof. . . . as did Abraham also, whom beside his largeness and ready mind it is just especially to admire, on this ground, that when he had no knowledge who they were that had come, yet he so acted. Do not thou then be curious either: since for Christ thou dost receive him. And if thou art always so scrupulous, many a time wilt thou pass by a man of esteem, and lose thy reward from him.      . . . Do not then busy thyself with men’s lives and doings. For this is the very extreme of niggardliness, for one loaf to be exact about a man’s entire life. For if this person be a murderer, if a robber, or what not, does he therefore seem to thee not to deserve a loaf and a few pence? And yet thy Master causeth even the sun to rise upon him! And dost thou judge him unworthy of food even for a day? (Homilies on Romans 21).

Surely, this is a vital word for our own time! May we, like Abraham, seek our own “goodly prey” in the places where God has put us, not being curious as to whether the one we seek to serve is “worthy” in our own eyes, “since for Christ thou dost receive him.”

Prayer: Grant, O God, that our churches would indeed be known for “Open hearts, open minds, open doors.” But do not let us sit inside and wait for folk to come in! Send us out, we pray, to show your radical hospitality in our world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.