By Amanda Berger
“Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ…” (Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 53)
Hospitality has long been a trademark of Christian communities. From the earliest gatherings of believers, who “broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:46) to the radical hospitality that is characteristic of Benedictine communities, Christianity has sought to model the unconditional welcome and love of Jesus.
In Benedictine communities, members follow the Rule of St. Benedict, written in 516 A.D. by Benedict of Nursia. The Benedictine understanding of hospitality is that of seeing the stranger as Christ—rooted in Matthew 25:35: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
If we understand the stranger as Christ, then we can radically shift how we care for the stranger in our midst—a houseguest, a new neighbor or a recent immigrant to our country. If we take this principle to heart, it also asks us, “What does my response to a stranger tell me about my relationship to Christ or my perception of Christ?”
In our modern American culture, we tend to hold the stranger at arms-length, until we begin to know them better. This is antithetical to the pre-modern notion of hospitality, where any visitor was offered shelter and a meal, no matter the circumstances. This kind of hospitality shows up repeatedly in the Bible. We see it as Abraham and Sarah entertain angels unaware. We see it as a small child offers loaves and fishes to Jesus for the benefit of multitudes. We see it as children sit in the welcoming arms of Jesus. Radical hospitality is not only about modeling God’s generosity, but also practicing God’s unconditional acceptance.
If we approach the stranger with curiosity, perhaps we can lead with compassion, allowing us to see the Christ within. Karen Gonzàlez, author and immigrant advocate, ends her beautiful book, The God Who Sees,” with these words:
“Indeed the question is not whether God will see and hear and welcome us. The question is whether we will see and hear and welcome God. Will we live out the radical and subversive hospitality that Jesus modeled for us?”
Side Bar: Practices of Hospitality
These simple practices can help us to be more open to the stranger in our midst—in our neighborhood, community, workplace or world.
- How often are we caught up in our inner monologue or to-do list that we fail to even notice someone who is new? Set aside a few minutes to greet a new neighbor, engage a recent hire or say hello to the person who sits next to you on the bus.
- Let go of perfection. So often we let perfect be the enemy of engagement. We worry about how our home will appear to a guest, whether our offer of hospitality will be rejected or whether we will be embarrassed by what we don’t know about another. Any effort made in a genuine love is likely to be received with gratitude.
- Lean into what scares you. Nervous about making a faux pas with a stranger? Most people love to share about their culture or who they are when approached from the desire for true understanding.
Be generous. With your smile, with your time, with your resources, and look for chances to get to know someone by name. Even small things can make a huge difference in another person’s world.