In Genesis 18 Abraham discovers three visitors approaching his tent and immediately recognizes them as holy people. The language in this chapter alternates between identifying the strangers as “they/them” and “the Lord.” This interplay might find explanation in Leo Tolstoy’s short story “God is Love” but mostly the chapter reminded me of my childhood.
Whenever new families showed up at church (especially if they had children my age), I would run to my parents and ask if we could invite them to dinner. With eventually eight children to feed and tight resources my parents’s answer was usually no. I dreamed of one day having my own home and being able to welcome guests at a moment’s notice with plenty to share.
I am moved by Abraham’s determined hospitality. He begs the strangers to stay, to rest, to have their feet washed. He engages his entire household in serving the strangers and attending to their needs. Not only does Abraham produce plenty of food and drink, but he welcomes them as honored guests.
In my first mission area my trainer encouraged me to listen to the women at church and find someone whose language skills I could learn from. My trainer invited me to make an appointment with the sister for us to visit her and share a message. As a new missionary I found this daunting but proceeded as instructed. The sister was overjoyed to make an appointment, offering to feed the three of us dinner. We set the appointment and I looked forward with great anticipation. In truth I had little to look forward to that first transfer with the freezing temperatures spent daily riding a bicycle through a strange city with women I didn’t know very well.
On the appointed day we worked through our schedule until it was time to set out for the sister’s apartment. We biked for what felt far too long, the minutes ticking by. Our appointment drew near then passed us. My trainer was lost. Finally consulting the maps we always carried with us, she reoriented and eventually got us to the right apartment building. Cold, exhausted, and embarrassed by our tardiness, I sheepishly entered the apartment. The lights were dimmed. As my eyes adjusted I spotted the dining table laid with candles, covered in dishes full of hot food. The sister welcomed us, brushed aside our apologies, and took our coats. We feasted with her comfortably, all embarrassment forgotten, warmed by her hospitality, and feeling like honored guests.
In Matthew’s record of Christ’s ministry, the Lord told his followers “in as much as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40, NT). Abraham seems to have understood this important truth—when we serve our fellow men and women, we are serving our brothers and sisters, children of God, and He counts it as if we have served Him.
May we all look for the unexpected guests among us, ready to welcome them as if they were the Lord Himself.