Entertaining Angels Unaware
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
As lovely as it may be to think about crossing paths with an angel, I have a sneaking suspicion that this passage isn’t referencing visits from celestial beings. It seems, rather, to direct us to consider our treatment of others – specifically strangers.
Hospitality is different now, in the era of hotels and motels which pop up just about everywhere. When we talk about a good host it’s typically someone you know who made plans to have you in their home. More often than not, it’s a mutually agreed upon, planned event. It generally involves food and drink, sometimes it includes the company of additional people, and it may even involve the offer of a place to stay. A good host is someone who goes out of their way to make you comfortable and creates a positive experience.
In antiquity, hospitality was the practice of welcoming unknown people wandering in your community into your home. In some cases, it could be seen as a preemptive strike – if you welcomed a would-be criminal into your private space, the kind act could neutralize the threat, making everyone in your home/community safer. However, the reverse was also true – if you took someone in who was fleeing from danger, hospitality included your implicit vow to provide protection to your guest. Either way, hospitality was a risky venture and the ramifications of the decision to welcome a stranger were unknown.
While the practice of hospitality may look different to us today, it’s still an essential part of Christianity. Jesus is clear when he tells how to treat strangers: love them. Be friendly and welcoming to all. Help those who need it. Provide for those who can’t provide for themselves. We have the opportunity to practice hospitality in myriad ways every day – many of which don’t even require a home. You can sit with a person you don’t recognize at church. You can talk to someone standing next to you in line. You can invite someone into your conversation so that they feel included. The bottom line is that we should treat those we encounter as though they are angels sent by God to walk among us, because they are.
Of course, not being in possession of theological degree, I could be completely wrong. Perhaps the passage *is* talking about actual angels walking among us and in that case, yes….you might entertain one without knowing it. Even if that’s the case, what’s vastly more important is that helping a stranger – divine entity or fellow human being – is the same thing as helping Jesus Himself. You don’t have to take it from me, just open your Bible to Matthew 25:40: Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.
The world is full of strangers, we encounter them daily, and we have one job that was given to us by Jesus Himself: Love them.
God’s blessings to all.