"To welcome the stranger is to acknowledge him as a human
being made in God's image; it is to treat her as one of equal worth
with ourselves - indeed, as one who may teach us something out of
the richness of experiences different from our own."

— Ana Maria Pineda

The need for shelter is a fundamental human need. None of us ever knows for sure when we might be uprooted and cast on the mercy of others. But how do we overcome our fear in order to welcome and shelter a stranger? The Christian practice of hospitality is the practice of providing a space to take in a stranger. It also encompasses the skills of welcoming friends and family to our tables, to claim the joy of homecoming.

Strangers, Guests, and Hosts in the Bible
In the Bible, offering hospitality is a moral imperative. God's people remember that they were once strangers and refugees who were taken in by God (Deuteronomy 10:19). How might this memory make someone respond to a stranger or a refugee? What would it mean to "love the alien as yourself" (Leviticus 19:34) in your own community or nation?

The Greek word xenos means "stranger", but also "guest" and "host". From xenos comes the New Testament word for hospitality: philoxenia means a love of the guest/stranger or enjoyment of hosting guests. Recall a time when you experienced the enjoyment of being a host... when you were the guest of a gracious host.

Do you notice how whenever Jesus shares meals with others, "guests" become "hosts" and "hosts" become "guests"? Contemplate the role reversals that occur in the story of the wedding feast at Cana (John 2:1-11). What happens when Jesus is 'hosted' by Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-10)? When Jesus comes as a guest to Martha (Luke 10:38-42), what does he teach her about hosting? How might guests end up as hosts, giving us the gift of their presence? What happens when an act of hospitality not only welcomes strangers, but also recognizes their holiness?

Becoming a Hospitable People
How are strangers welcomed to your neighborhood? To your faith community? Can you identify individuals in your midst who seem to practice hospitality especially well? What do the physical spaces in which you live "say" to strangers and newcomers? How are strangers invited to share their gifts within your home ... your workplace ... your congregation? What architectural features - doors, furniture, accessibility ramps, gathering spaces - speak welcome, or don't?

Hospitality is made up of hard work undertaken under risky conditions. How might the effectiveness of individual gestures of hospitality be bolstered through the strength of community? How can being part of a Christian community help us overcome fear of being a host or a guest? How might corporate worship shape our moral imaginations and nurture a civic climate characterized by hospitality to the strangers in our midst?

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Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

— Romans 12:13

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

— Leviticus 19:33-34

© 2006-2011 The Valparaiso Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith