Thursday, July 18, 2019

Entertaining Enchantresses and Strangers

The first animated movie nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award was well worth it just for the incredibly beautiful opening sequence. Disney's Beauty and the Beast begins with the gorgeous, sweeping view of a forest in full bloom and zooms in on a castle in the background. The narration begins, "There once was a prince who lived in a charming castle..." Then stain glass windows tell us the story of this prince who was visited by an old woman begging for a place to stay the night in exchange for a single rose. The prince, in his callousness, turned the old woman away, only to discover that she was a beautiful enchantress who had disguised herself to test him.  The scene makes a wonderful beginning for a fairytale, but the scenario is not so far-fetched as we might imagine. Hebrews 13:2 warns us," Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (ESV). 

As I read this verse recently I thought about its context, having been written in a day and age when people routinely traveled from city to city, never knowing if there would be an inn or a hotel, with most people needing to rely on the hospitality of strangers. American society really isn't set up that way. We have hotels and motels in every major city and nearly all of the small ones. We have cars and bus stops and truck stops. People can find shelter if they really want to, so this doesn't really apply to us anymore, right?

But hospitality isn't simply about providing a roof over someone's head. Hospitality is about caring for people and giving of ourselves to make people feel welcome and secure. Hospitality is about providing warmth and friendship to those without any close at hand. And all of those things apply today.

The author of Hebrews, though, warns us specifically not to neglect hospitality to strangers. We are to provide warmth and friendship, welcome and security to people we don't know, to strangers, and he doesn't give us any wiggle room to provide hospitality only when it isn't potentially dangerous. We are to be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16), but we don't get to overlook someone's need because we are uncomfortable or we have unfounded skepticism about the reality of their need. As believers, we are expected to show hospitality to strangers, to invite them into our homes and offer them welcome and friendship.

As uncomfortable as we might feel welcoming strangers into our homes, we never know when God might be testing our maturity. Who knows? We might even get the chance to entertain angels.

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