Written by T. M. Suffield |
Monday, September 25, 2023
You don’t have to be best friends with everyone you invite over but we are supposed to welcome strangers. Do it by degrees, go a little further than before, but make your table a hub of life and hope to those who eat at it. Beyond the commands of scripture, we could talk about cultural benefits and statistics and do some delightful social science, but let’s not. Instead, think of this. When you were far off, a rebel and exile from the presence of the living God, he decided to lay a table for you to come and eat at.
One of the qualifications for elders is hospitality (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1), which means ‘welcoming strangers.’ While this is an absolute expectation of pastors, most of the qualifications describe the ordinary Christian life. We’re meant to be welcoming strangers, and we’re all meant to be doing it (Hebrews 13).
Yet, we’re terrible at it.
It’s natural and human to be better at welcoming people who are like you than people who aren’t. You have a better sense of what they would receive as a welcome, conversation flows more easily because you have more things in common, and though we are often uncomfortable with the fact of it we also prefer to welcome those like us. There’s something in all humans where like calls to like.
This can be a normal innocuous, human thing, or it can grow into the excesses of racism or other prejudices. We shouldn’t be overly dismayed if you notice that you find it easier to welcome people who are like you. Welcome requires walls, and the walls of your household are more likely to be comfortably shaped for those whose walls look similar. That’s life.
Christians are also compelled to step out of our worlds and welcome the stranger. This means the literal stranger, the person you haven’t met at all before—I am now used to meeting people for the first time in my kitchen, strange though that would sound to many people—but it also means the person who is different to you. Those differences can be small or large, sometimes we are trying to join hands over vast cultural gulfs. We are not commanded to be the best of friends (though you can be!) but to welcome.
It’s not easy to do the difficult thing and have people in your home who you think you’ll struggle to talk to or that you’ll struggle to feed (hot sauce for West African friends who think your food is dreadfully bland is a winner), but we should.