My uncle is known for saying fish and family smell after three days; and all my life, except for family vacations (where each family had its own space) I never knew him to stay more than 3 days, often including arrival and departure. He knew something of the limits of hospitality. Hebrews proclaims an unlimited hospitality.
Sunday’s reading begins with “Let mutual love continue.” and moves to three exhortations which are literally (in Greek) expressions of love, the first of which is philoxenis, love of stranger, or hospitality. In this week’s commentary Erik Heen notes that in the first century hospitality, welcoming the stranger, was the only way most people could learn about the wider world. (i) So the host, who is generally seen as providing a benefit to the guest, receives a benefit as well, thus there is a mutual benefit to host and guest. Heen previously writes that God’s redeeming work through Jesus is outside the walls of the Temple, (in Jewish thought the only place redemptive sacrifice can be offered), outside the city of God, on the land of stranger (the Romans). Thus Heen weaves together the redeeming work of God in Jesus and love of the stranger.
The concluding verses of today’s reading begins with the admonition to “… continually offer a sacrifice of praise …” and ends with the reminder to be generous. Noting that Jesus’ sacrifice was completed amidst stranger, that generosity extends to strangers.
The hook is we, as host, benefit from generously offering to strangers, as do the strangers. Those with means are called to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless etc. Such acts of generosity become ministry when done in love, which includes allowing ourselves to be changed by the stranger who comes into our lives.
And all this time, I thought hospitality was my gift, hum.
i. Erik Heen, Working Preacher, September 1, 2013, Hebrews