by Barbie Fischer
In our last edition, we began our series on hospitality and took a look at Abraham and Sarah welcoming three strangers in Genesis 18: 1-8 in the article Welcoming the Stranger. Hospitality such as this was a cultural obligation and as noted in the article, the Hebrew word actually means bringing in of strangers. As I read the story again, there is a word that struck me in verse two: the word “ran”. In verse two, it says that when Abraham saw the strangers he did not just welcome them in — he ran to welcome them.
This made me think of a firefighter running into a burning building to help someone in need. It also made me think of how often not only do we not run to help a stranger, we often pretend they don’t exist. Especially the homeless people I often see. How many of us pass them by without even looking at them? How often do we do that to people in need in our own congregations or communities?
In Matthew 10:46-52, a blind beggar was crying out to Jesus and the crowd told him to hush, much like our society tells us to ignore the homeless or those in need. Rather than telling the beggar to hush, society tells us we don’t have time, it is not safe. Yet these are our brothers and sisters. In Matthew 10, the author even names the beggar, Bartimaeus. He is a man, not something to be ignored. And Jesus does not ignore him. As Abraham ran to the strangers, Jesus calls for Baritmaeus and heals him.
Honestly, I can’t think of the last time I ran to a stranger, or even called to one. This past weekend, I had a woman cry out to me and ask for spare change. I honestly had no cash on me and so I looked her in the eye and said as much. As I walked away she said, “thank you for responding.” It struck me to my core. I wonder how many times she watches people walk past her, avoiding eye contact, trying to pretend she does not exists.
It can slow us down to stop and acknowledge that a person is speaking to us, even more so if we try to be hospitable and offer assistance; yet as God’s children are we not called to love our brothers and sisters? Even if right now they are strangers to us?
This week I have been restocking my blessing bags that I keep in my car. These can contain any number of items. In mine I have a snack size bag of chips, soft granola bar, an apple, a small bar of soap, band aids, tooth paste, tooth brush, and a note of encouragement and address to a local shelter. In the winter I add socks and gloves. I keep a few in my car, so when I see someone asking for money I can hand them a bag. When I lived in Washington, DC, I often tried to keep extra granola bars and trail mix in my purse for the same reason. Perhaps, this can be something your congregation can do together. Or if you do not see homeless people on a regular occasion, maybe your congregation can do a food drive for a local food bank and then volunteer at the food bank, and get to know those in your area who are in need. Or begin collecting school supplies for local kids and organize a back pack stuffing day at the end of the summer and a celebration event where the back packs can be handed out.
Hospitality can be uncomfortable. It stretches us out of our comfort zone. Yet, the word of God says, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline,” 2 Timothy 1:7. May the spirit of power, love and discipline manifest in us all as we continue to go to the margins and beyond.