Joyce sent this picture tweet recently. She commented:
In spite of being a stranger, this lone Laysan Teal seems to have been accepted by the other waterfowl at Welney nature reserve.
It got me thinking about hospitality.
There is an ancient rune or poem about Celtic Hospitality which begins:
I saw a stranger yestere’en:
I put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place,
Music in the listening place.
All this because the guest brings a blessing from God because, as the poem ends:
Often, often, often
Goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.
The idea of seeing Christ Jesus in others, especially in strangers and visitors has its root in early church practice. It was particularly central to the teaching of St. Benedict.
St. Benedict wrote a rule for living, for his monks, which has become enshrined in the practice of Benedictine communities and the wider Christian Church ever since.
Amongst the things he put into his rule, St. Benedict said this:
All visitors who call are to be welcomed as if they were Christ,
for he will one day say: I was a stranger and you took me in (Mt 25).
Benedict then set down how guests should be received and how they should be treated. His teaching has its roots in ancient practice which was as much part of Judaism as it was Christianity. Both are doubtless mindful of what the epistle to the Hebrews calls entertaining angels unawares – without knowing it. (Hb 13:1). There is an echo here in the Old Testament story of Abraham’s hospitality to the three angels at the oak of Mamre in Genesis 18.
Seeing Christ in each other is something which ought to make a huge difference to how we treat each other. St. Benedict in his rule cautions about self-centredness and offers hospitality towards others as an antidote to this.
One of the stories about how we should treat others as if they were Christ is Luke 7: 36-50. It begins with a Pharisee called Simon who seemingly offered hospitality to Jesus. His motives however, were suspect and we quickly see that he had no intention of treating Jesus as the honoured guest.
In contrast a woman, who had the notoriety locally of being a sinner, entered the house bearing an alabaster jar, out of which she poured ointment and began to wash Jesus’ feet. It was an act of profound love and honour, though the gathering greeted what she did in the kind of shock-horror which is the hallmark of certain kinds of so-called newspapers today! Surely if he were a prophet, they began to murmur, he would know what kind of woman was touching him!
Whatever her sin, theirs was all the greater because they had failed in hospitality. Jewish Law was extremely strict in how the stranger and visitor are to be received. From the time of Abraham onwards, great importance was attached to hospitality. It is described as a sacred obligation. In biblical times, certain customs are attached to it such as providing water for washing the feet, greeting a guest with a kiss on both cheeks, offering olive oil mixed with spices to anoint the hair, all these demonstrated hospitality – loving strangers – in a practical way: which is why Benedict was careful to highlight hospitality in his Rule.
Jesus saw Simon’s hospitality as a complete sham and the self-righteous outpouring from his lips condemns him as a bigot whose religious practice is equally bogus. By contrast the woman, says Jesus, has done much more than follow Jewish custom. What she did came straight from her heart. She had, said Jesus, shown great love. She demonstrated true hospitality and Jesus saw beyond what others saw in her. He saw The Spirit at work in her heart.
The final part of this story moves our attention away from the Pharisees towards the woman whom Jesus forgives, grants peace and makes whole. Apart from being shown a lesson in true hospitality we are also reminded that Jesus has an inclusive view of humanity by which all who turn to God are accepted, blessed and made whole. God who makes us in his image and in Jesus Christ restores that image within us, excludes no one from his Gospel net of love. By implication, neither must we.
Equally, there is a warning here – if we fail to embrace others with loving hospitality then we condemn ourselves. If we fail to see Christ in others then we are failing in our witness to His Good News of eternal love and salvation. Our welcome of others must be authentic and real and lead to true loving openness as a Christian community. As Benedict reminds us, at the heart of Christian hospitality is the recognition that all are of infinite value to God; all are precious and all are worthy of being treated lovingly.
Sometimes Christianity can appear harsh, judgemental and unloving. It can seem to be exclusive, unyielding and so righteous that it is off-putting. Sometimes we can erect barriers which keep people out if they don’t fit into our own view of how things should be. The trouble with barriers, of course, is that they not only keep people out – they imprison people within. By the way he treats the woman who anointed his feet Jesus makes it quite plain that God’s saving love is available to all and none are excluded. It opens our lives and hearts to a deeper love and joy and acceptance of and by God that should be a great comfort to us.
It certainly seemed to be to the Laysan Teal.
Thank you Joyce for sharing.