When our society speaks of hospitality today, we do not normally think of a kinship love for strangers, which is the meaning of philoxenia, the biblical Greek word usually translated as “hospitality.” We live in a culture of xenophobia—a fear of strangers—while as Christ followers we are called to philoxenia—a kinship of love strangers. So, our dilemma is that our culture of xenophobia pushes back against our gospel-summons to make room for strangers with a welcoming embrace.
Unlike today, the early mothers and fathers of the Christian faith practiced a way of being that welcomed others, including strangers and those incapable of paying them back, with generous and relational embrace. In fact, hospitality was more than just a practice for the early Church; it was a way of being. It encompassed the whole person as it addressed the social, emotional, cognitive, physical and spiritual dimensions of personhood. To early Christian writers, hospitality was a moral obligation that came with God’s in-breaking kingdom. It was a fundamental expression of the gospel, and vital for faithful Christian witness.1 So much so, in fact, that the early Church mothers and fathers considered sharing meals, homes, and worship with people of different backgrounds to be a significant identity marker of the Christian faith.2
For the people of ancient Israel, a significant part of what it meant to be the people of God was understanding themselves to be sojourners with a responsibility to care for the vulnerable strangers in their midst. Jesus, who was dependent on the hospitality of others during much of his time on earth, also served as a gracious host in his words and in his actions. Those who turned to him found welcome and rest and the promise of reception into the Kingdom. He urged his hosts to follow his example by opening their tables to more than family and friends who could reciprocate and by giving generous welcome to the poor and sick who had little to offer in return. In fact, Jesus even promised that welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry person, and visiting the sick were acts of personal kindness to the Son of Man Himself.
Hospitality begins in creation. In the Genesis narrative, we see God making room in his infinite and always-present life for a finite and limited creation, including us. He did so not stoically or out of obligation but instead in love and out of desire. As a “homemaking God who creates a world for inhabitation,” he welcomes us into his life to share in all that he is and all that he has, including his good creation.3
Our God is a homemaking, hospitable God, and hospitality is central to his triune being.
I have more to say, but that is for the next post. Until then, think about the image of God as a homemaker. Sit with it.
The home we all long for can be found with God.
1 Shepherd of Hermas, Mandate 8:8–10. See also John Chrysostom, Homily 45 on Acts; Homily 14 on 1 Timothy; and Homily 66 on Matthew.
2 Christine D. Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 4.
3 Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian J. Walsh, Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 14. I owe the language of “homemaking God” to the authors of this insightful work.