Welcoming the Stranger

The centrality of hospitality to the social practices of many societies attests to its almost universal importance. Necessary to human well-being, hospitality offers protection, provision, and respect to strangers while it also sustains fundamental moral bonds among family, friends, and acquaintances. In the first centuries of the church, Christians gave hospitality to strangers a distinctive emphasis by pressing welcome outward toward the weakest and those least likely to be able to reciprocate. What can a closer look at this practice of hospitality teach us about the moral life more generally?

For Christians, the moral life is inseparable from grace. It begins in worship as we recognize God's generosity toward us. Our morality involves responsibility and faithful performance of duty, but fundamentally it emerges from a grateful heart. We can see this clearly in hospitality, which is first a response of love and gratitude for God's love and welcome to us. If not shaped by gratitude, when we encounter difficult demands or ungrateful guests, our hospitality quickly becomes grudging. Grudging hospitality exhausts hosts and wounds guests even as it serves them.

Christian hospitality reflects and participates in God's hospitality. God loves the sojourner and provides for the vulnerable. God gives the lonely a home and offers us a place at an abundant table. Hospitality depends on a disposition of love; it has more to do with the resources of a generous and grateful heart than with availability of food or space.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1999
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