36 to 1
“Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to the stranger.” – Romans 12: 13
One morning years ago I climbed out of the cramped quarters of the Volkswagon Bug (bug not bus) in which my wife and were camping on an island in Greece. We had parked, after nightfall, on a grassy bluff we thought to be uninhabitated. The morning light brought a surprise: our uninhabited bluff was someone’s backyard. Emerging, I heard a voice call out, “Voulez-vous boire quelque chose?”
Startled, I assumed the worst. I imagined the young women who spoke these words was upset we were there and telling us to clear out now. Of course, that wasn’t what her tone of voice said. And when my high school French kicked in I realized she had not said “go away,” but “come in.” More accurately, she had asked if we would like something to drink.
Hospitality to the stranger. A revelation.
We entered a small home with a large family and had coffee and pastries.
Philoxenia is Greek, one of the Bible’s words for hospitality. It means love (philo) of the stranger (xenia). It’s the opposite of xenophobia, fear of the stranger.
What’s most distressing about this memory is my own fear. I feared the worst. But I got the best. I got hospitality. Love overcame fear. And the pastries helped too.
Jonathan Sacks, who was for a time Great Britain’s chief rabbi, writes, “The Hebrew Bible in one verse commands, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ but in no fewer than 36 places commands us to ‘love the stranger.'”
I suspect the disproportionality (36 to 1) means that people besides me have had to hear it again and again: let love overcome fear. “Extend hospitality (philoxenia) to strangers.”
Forgive us, O God, that you have to repeat yourself so often. In a world where there is so much xenophobia, make of us philoxeniacs. Amen.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. His newest book is Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day. You can read Tony’s “Weekly Meditation” and “What’s Tony Thinking?” at his website, www.anthonybrobinson.com.