Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Hebrews 13:2 (NRSV)
When Scott and I started talking about renting out rooms in our empty nest to tourists via Airbnb, some of our friends were aghast. Really, you’re going to let perfect strangers from other countries stay in your house? While you are there? Seems dangerous. I would never do that.
Three years later, we have hosted hundreds of strangers from dozens of countries and most states, and the experience has been overwhelmingly enriching, inspiring and fun. We began with the firm belief that the vast majority of human beings are inherently good, and that being open to new cultures and languages and traditions would enhance and invigorate us. We were hoping that we might make the world just a bit more friendly and less fearful. We love to travel, and figured that this would be rather like traveling, but without the jet lag and TSA patdowns.
We have shared many meals, hours by the pool, and neighborhood walks with our guests. We’ve had lots of fun with guests who speak almost no English. You just can’t beat chicken wontons made by hand in your own kitchen, barbeque prepared by Argentinians in your backyard, or Danish meatballs whipped up by actual Danes...and then sharing these delicacies around your dining room table amid raucous laughter and fascinating conversation. We often bid our guests goodbye with hugs and selfies. Our belief that all humans are fundamentally alike was entirely confirmed.
Now I realize that Airbnb is probably not what the author of Hebrews had in mind. We aren’t taking in refugees nor the homeless, and we are getting paid for our hospitality. But our Airbnb experience is what first sprang to mind when I read the words “hospitality” and “strangers.” I’m so saddened by the atmosphere of fear and judgement that has reached a fever pitch in our country and elsewhere in recent weeks amid the ongoing refugee crisis. As has been eloquently pointed out by numerous others on this Lenten Blog, fear is definitely not how Christ instructs us to react to the stranger. Instead, we are called to put our fears aside and see the face of Jesus in every person, regardless of class, race, gender, religion, or nationality. In fact, we are to treat “the least of these” with MORE respect and love than the privileged, who already have more than they need.
While preparing to write this entry, I read that the word “angels” in this context could be interpreted to mean “messengers.” What message could we receive as Christians by showing hospitality to strangers, to refugees, to the homeless? Scott and I have learned so much from our guests from all over the globe. If only we could replace fear with wonder, and trepidation with curiousity.
The verse just before this one, the first verse of Hebrews 13, reads simply, “Let mutual love continue.” I will pray that we as Christians can look towards the stranger, the refugee, the least of these, with mutual love. That we can welcome all into God’s big hospitable family. And that if each of us does this, we might together set a shining humanitarian example for the rest of our planet.