Bible Study: Entertaining Angels
by JULIE TAYLOR*
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have enter-tained angels without knowing it.
This Scripture passage reminds us to help others, whether we know them or not, and to act with kindness. It tells us to show hospitality to strangers. But what is hospitality?
Synonyms evoke similar yet different feelings: welcome, warmth, kindness and generosity.
We all have an idea of what we think it means to be hospitable. We have experienced the hospitality of others. Most often, we recognize it as welcome, joy at entertaining guests, feeling at home away from home.
I stayed at a hotel in Daytona Beach, Fla., where the owners extend hospitality to their guests that includes afternoon gifts left on the bed of returning guests, plastic ducks for the bathtub, and complimentary donuts and coffee each morning.
I have visited homes that are immaculately kept and beautifully decorated. The owners served delicious refreshments and ended our time together with an invitation to come again.
I have spent weekends with folks who made me comfortable on their couches and, upon my leaving, gave me homemade pickles or jelly or freshly baked bread. Many recognize these experiences as hospitality.
There are additional ways to extend hospitality:
• When you invite someone you do not know well to spend the weekend even though the visit is unexpected.
• When you take a few extra minutes to walk a person to a bus stop because the person is from out of town and the bus depot is confusing.
• When you share your lunch with someone who doesn't have anything to eat.
Hospitality is going out of your way to help someone with no expectations about what you could or should receive in return. Hospitality is a generosity of spirit that provides cheerfully for another's needs.
Scripture defines hospitality
A search of Scriptures using Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible lists only five passages with the word hospitality or hospitable. 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:8 use this word to refer to characteristics of a bishop. Being "hospitable" is included in a list of traits of bishops.
The other two Scriptures are Romans 12:13 and 1 Peter 4:9. These passages are within pastoral letters that list ways for believers to live with each other.
When Hebrews 13:1-2 is added to this list, a new perspective on hospitality emerges. Four of the five Scriptures are in an assertive voice:
• Hebrews 13:1-2 says show hospitality.
• Romans 12:13 says extend hospitality.
• Titus 1:8 says a bishop must be hospitable.
• 1 Peter 4:9 says "Be hospitable to one another without complaining."
When these passages require hospitality, they require action.
The Greek word translated as hospitality/hospitable, used as a noun or an adjective, is a compound word made from philos - loving as in brotherly love or the love of a friend - and xenos - a stranger but also a guest. Literally, hospitality means loving a stranger.
Hebrews 13:1 begins by admonishing the reader: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers. It focuses the practice of hospitality on those who are unfamiliar to us.
The act of showing hospitality is to entertain, most often associated with food and lodging - literally whatever is required to live. Hebrews 13:3 pushes hospitality further:
Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
This is reminiscent of Jesus' admonition in Matthew 25:31-45 that we must reach beyond ourselves to meet the needs of others, to see Jesus in the least of these. The reference to torture is strong. It challenges our contemporary society. Hospitality is the living out of Matthew 7:12: Do to others as you would have them do to you.
This Scriptural definition of hospitality is deeper than welcoming friends and family home. Examples of this hospitality are embedded throughout the Bible.
Meeting people's needs
Hospitality is, perhaps, most easily recognized by travelers who journey from well known places to unfamiliar places. During their sojourns, they experience vulnerability that comes from being out of their element. They are vulnerable to unexpected mishaps, transportation problems, unfamiliar customs.
Sensing vulnerability, others may choose to help travelers or take advantage of them. Having a car break down or being involved in an accident or getting lost are times of great vulnerability. Often we are rescued by strangers.
This is where Mary and Joseph found themselves just before Jesus' birth. They were vulnerable travelers on a journey required by their government. Though likely accompanied by extended family, they found themselves looking for shelter in an overcrowded city.
The innkeeper offered them hospitality in an animal shelter because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:7). Not ideal, the stable provided protection from the elements. It was enough.
Providing hospitality does not require meeting people's needs with the best there is. It does require being open, willing and creative in responding to people's needs whether presented directly when someone asks for help or visible when we see those who are marginalized.
There are so many in our society who are in need of the generous, warm, welcoming, kind hospitality offered to them by strangers called by God to practice hospitality. As United Methodist Women and our predecessor organizations have in the past, let us continue, as an organization and as individuals, to extend the hand of hospitality through our ministries to women, children and youth. These strangers are desperately in need of the hospitality we can provide.
Hospitality in Scripture
• The hospitality of welcoming children: Mark 10:13-16 and Luke 18:15-17.
• The hospitality of Zacchaeus: Luke 19:1-10.
• The hospitality of giving: Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4.
• The hospitality of providing in times of deep distress: Matthew 27:57-60.
• The hospitality of washing feet: John 13:3-17.
• The hospitality of anointing: John 12:1-8.
• The hospitality of refreshments: John 2:1-11.
• The hospitality of provisions: Exodus 16 and Luke 8:1-3.
• The hospitality of recuperation: 1 Kings 19:4-10 and Matthew 4:11.
• The hospitality of healing, even on the Sabbath: Mark 3:1-5, Luke 13:10-17 and John 5:1-18.
• The hospitality of feeding: Mark 6:30-44 and Luke 9:10-17.
• The hospitality of acceptance: Matthew 9:9-13 and John 4:1-30.
• The hospitality of welcome: Luke 15:11-32.*
• The hospitality of neighborliness: Luke 10:25-37.*
• The hospitality of a banquet: Luke 14:12-14.
• The hospitality of receiving God's workers: Luke 10:1-12.
• The hospitality of good friends: John 11 and 12.
• The hospitality of evil motives: Matthew 2:7-16.
• The hospitality of persistent friends: Mark 2:3-5.
• The hospitality of accompaniment: Mark 15:40-41.
• The hospitality of the church: Luke 2:41-49.
• The hospitality of leadership: John 1:25-42, 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:5-8.
• The hospitality of a healing touch: Mark 5:21-34 and Luke 5:12-14.
• Hospitality as intervention: 1 Samuel 25:1-42.
* Julie Taylor is executive secretary for children, youth and family advocacy for the Women's Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, based in Washington, D.C.