By Rev. Andy Nelms
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
When I was about 11 years old I shared Thanksgiving with a brother and sister who were essentially homeless, and though their presence made me uncomfortable, the meal taught me the meaning of radical hospitality.
When my mom’s uncle Bill was hospitalized, his two step-children, Jeremy and Nicole, were left in a tough position. They were in their 20s and living with him at the time. They had been homeless for a stint and were now reaping the benefits of Bill’s compassion. I knew they needed help, but I would have much rather them receive it from a community kitchen or local church. Instead, they were here at my Thanksgiving disrupting all of my traditions and routines. Jeremy was dressed in dirty sweats, and Nicole was in what I assumed were the nicest clothes she owned. Here Jeremy was, seated across from me, only eating when no one else was looking. As I watched, though, I started to notice something else.
My family members were all going out of their way to make Jeremy and Nicole feel welcome. As soon as they walked in the house, my aunt greeted them as if they were her own children. Then she paraded them around the house, introducing them to their distant cousins whom they had never met. My family even made room for them on the couch before the meal started. My mom kept checking up on them, making sure they had enough to eat, offering them pie, coffee, and anything else they might need. I didn’t realize it, but in that moment, I was witnessing radical hospitality.
Radical hospitality is found throughout the Bible. One of my favorite examples is in Genesis 18:1-15. Abraham invites three strangers into his home and prepares a huge meal for them. Because of his hospitality he discovers that these strangers are actually messengers from God, sent there to tell him and Sarah that they will bear a child in their old age. This was the kind of radical hospitality I was learning about as I watched Jeremy secretly eat his Thanksgiving dinner while Nicole blushed each time she was offered pie.
I became intimately aware that I was sharing a meal with someone who needed a meal. I was in a home with someone who needed a roof over their head. And I was sharing a family with someone who desperately needed someone else to care about them. This isn’t a story about how I saw someone less fortunate and it made me appreciate what I had. It did, but that’s not the point. The point is that Jeremy and Nicole were the entire reason Christians share these kinds of meals together. Jesus himself said that when we show hospitality to those who are in need we are, in fact, showing it to Christ himself (Matthew 25:31-46). That is radical hospitality—showing grace and welcome to others, regardless of whether we think they deserve it.
This holiday season I hope your doors are opened to someone who is not easy to love. I pray you share a meal with someone who needs it. And I anticipate that God will show you how to offer his radical hospitality to those who need it.