In his Rule for monastic community, Benedict of Nursia wrote, "Any guest who happens to arrive at the monastery should be recieved just as we would recieve Christ himself, because he promised that on the last day he will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Proper respect should be shown to everyone while a special welcome is reserved for those who are the household of our Christian faith and for pilgrims. As soon as the arrival of a guest is announced, the superior and members of the community should hurry to offer a welcome with warm-hearted courtesy. First of all, they should pray together so as to seal their encounter in the peace of Christ. Prayer should come first and then the kiss of peace, so to evade any delusions which the devil may contrive."
~ Book of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, Shane Claiborne
Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the stories of hospitilality that I read on the travel blogs I frequent. My fellow bloggers who have backpacked across the terrains of distant shores are welcomed with open arms into the homes of strangers. Oftentimes, those who welcome them into their homes have very little material belongings themselves and it is truly a sacrifice to invite their foreign guests into their humble abodes, sharing the little resources they have. Yet, they do it with joy and see it as an honor, offering them the choice portions of food and even in some cases shelter for a night or two.
It seems that, at least here where I live in New England, if a stranger knocks on one's door for help or provisions, they are more likely to be met with a response of having the door remain closed and locked while the police are hastily called! There are some very valid reasons for people to distrust those that come knocking at their doors unannounced. For sure, there are criminals out there ready to take advantage of the gullible and unsuspecting, ready to spread their malice and darkness in an already dark world.
The fact is, most of us don't have backpackers from distant lands wandering through our neighborhoods. But we certainly see strangers among us that are in need of help, of charity, of hope. They are on our streets holding signs, huddled under bridges, lined up outside soup kitchens. Sometimes they are even our own neighbors, those we avoid getting to know, that have needs, that have broken homes and broken lives and so desperately need the light and love of Christ to shatter the chains that bind them to misery.
Perhaps we aren't always given the opportunity to be hospitable in the form of welcoming foreign travellers into our homes, but just as important, we are called to welcome the strangers that dwell among us into our hearts and respond towards them with love, compassion and hospitality. God's love is infinite and unconditional and as we conform more and more into the likeness of Jesus, our capacity of compassion increases, and the Spirit provides us with the confidence to break out of our comfort zones and live out the attributes of Christ. Compassion and love are not just abstract terms, but they are indeed verbs, action words to be lived out, not just believed in or discussed.
Whenever I think of serving others I am reminded of these verses in Matthew, which many of you will recognize. These are the very verses that Benedict of Nursia is referring to in the above passage and they relate to us very clearly who we serve when we serve strangers. :
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Whatever material blessings we have are not our own, but God's. Through Him and in Him we are given all things. Gifts are meant to be passed on. We are blessed so that we may bless others in return. When God allows us to bless those among us through the blessings He's given us it brings glory to Him and shines light into the hearts of others.
Am I shining the light of hope and love that God has planted within my heart through the workings of His Spirit to others? Am I serving the strangers that I encounter in my life? Am I walking like Jesus did...with mindful compassion and empathy? Are you?
I confess that these are questions and reflections I haven't had in my Christian walk until recently. Many churches, including some of the ones I've gone to in the past, seem to hardly address this aspect of our faith, of the necessity to actively serve others. I find this strange considering the emphasis that Scripture puts towards conforming ourselves into the image of Christ. Jesus was the purest example of a servant. Mark 10:45 describes Jesus' role this way: 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
It took reading the gospels again, with a renewed Spirit, to have the eyes of my heart truly opened and inspired by these truths. I am not walking perfectly in them yet, but pray to live them out more and more as I grow in Christ. I think we all have precious gifts that we can share with others, the strangers among us and those familiar and intimate in our lives. May we all strive to do so.
Any thoughts? Comments? I would love to hear them! Please leave them in the comments section. Thank you :)