Hospitality is a time-honored virtue in the Middle East, as in this story.
Two men were crossing the desert when they saw a Bedouin’s tent and asked him for shelter. Even though he did not know them, he welcomed them in the way that the conduct of nomads dictates: a camel was killed and its meat served in a sumptuous dinner. The next day, as the guests were still there, the Bedouin had another camel killed. Astonished, they protested they had not yet finished eating the one killed the day before. “It would be a disgrace to serve old meat to my guests,” was the answer. On the third day, the two strangers woke early and decided to continue on their journey. As the Bedouin was not at home, they gave his wife a hundred dinars, apologizing for not being able to wait, because if they spent any more time there, the sun would become too strong for them to travel. They had traveled for four hours when they heard a voice calling out to them. They looked back and saw the Bedouin following them. As soon as he caught up with them, he threw the money to the ground. “I gave you such a warm welcome! Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves?” In surprise, the strangers said that the camels were surely worth far more than that, but that they did not have much money. “I am not talking about the amount,” was the answer. “The desert welcomes Bedouins wherever they go, and never asks anything in return. If we had to pay, how could we live? Welcoming you to my tent is like paying back a fraction of what life has given us.” (Paulo Coelho, The Code of Hospitality, http://www.spiritual-short-stories.com.)
The Bible also puts a high value on hospitality. Several stories in the Old Testament speak of biblical figures like Abraham hosting strangers, only to turn out that those strangers were angels in disguise. The New Testament calls on church members to “extend hospitality to strangers” (Romans 12:13).
In our worship service on Sunday, Sept.6, we will consider the theme of “hospitality.” More than beliefs or worship rituals, it was the practice by early Christians of hospitality and love, not only toward church members but also toward outsiders, even enemies, that caught the attention of the cultures in which they lived. The same is likely true for the church in our culture today.