In Genesis, we read of three men who were run in, invited, and warmly received by Abraham. His hospitality seems strange and slightly exaggerated. I wonder if I wouldn’t be half aloof and suspicious if I was on the receiving end of it. Almost like one does with a troublesome street vendor who just doesn’t know when to stop and is just “too”.
However, if one understands the ancient Near East, Abraham’s behavior seems less strange and more like the expected norm. Even today, one of the hallmarks of people here is their hospitality. Nomads who had to dress behind grazing did not have the luxury of guests and wanted to make the most of it if the opportunity presented itself. The area in which they found themselves was one where dangers were plentiful. The climate is extreme and food and water are scarce. There were also gangs that could attack and hurt you.
By receiving someone warmly, a host guaranteed the person that he was safe under his roof and that he would lay down his life rather than attack the guest. Sometimes a pigeon or other animal was slaughtered and its blood shed in a small alley at the entrance of a dwelling to confirm this promise. In turn, the guest undertook to be a good guest and to respect all the rules of the host’s household as soon as he simply crossed the threshold.
In the story of Abraham, his hospitality followed unexpectedly. The guests are discovered as messengers of God with a directional guide to His path. It’s almost as if the guests are turning into hosts that allow Abraham to share in the riches of God’s grace.
I think people who understand the art of hospitality still have similar experiences to Abraham today. Opening your heart and home to people usually results in them sharing something special that enriches your life path and sometimes even sends you in a new direction. However, this type of hospitality involves risk and sacrifice because as surely as good guests can bless you, so sure bad guests can sour your life. For this risk, see only the odds that believe that any people who step over your door knowingly or unknowingly are sent and received by God like himself.
Jesus did not say in vain: “As far as you have done it to one of the least, you have done it to me”. May it inspire us to open our doors and our hearts to people.
Gawie Snyman is a story teller and dreamer. He currently resides in northern Alberta, Canada with his wife Isabel and two children Steph and Marise. He be contacted at [email protected]