Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. - Hebrews 13:2 ESV
Welcoming strangers is part of our religious tradition. As the Holy Trinity icon teaches us, it can bring us into the presence of God.
The icon shows three angelic strangers who received Abraham's hospitality in the book of Genesis. These strangers told Abraham that his wife, Sarah, would give birth to their promised child in the coming year.
Nowadays, strangers arrive at our doorsteps, but we often do not see them. We tend to look away because it is uncomfortable to see human vulnerability. If we do look, we will see the ten characteristics of the stranger: conflict, alienation, seclusion, solitude, fragmentation, loss of control, anxiety, lovelessness, self-absorption, sometimes death. These traits are listed in the Danish Seaman’s Mission manual because they are common among seafarers.
Abraham and his descendants became strangers, themselves, after God sent him to a foreign land. In Genesis 15:13, "The Lord said to Abram [Abraham's original name], 'Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs.'” They could no longer cling to the idols of material familiarity, but embraced the consolations of their faith in God as they sojourned in Egypt, eventually becoming slaves. They escaped only to become nomads, vagrants and wanderers; yet as such, God gave them special protection.
The book of Deuteronomy declares:
You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him. (Chpt. 23:15, 16)
This command is remarkable because ancient travelers had few legal rights. They were largely at the mercy of local residents. Those residents who welcomed strangers took responsibility for them, as Boaz welcomed Ruth the Moabite in Ruth, chapter 2.
Jesus is a direct descendant of the stranger Ruth. He is the quintessential stranger, really a vagrant in our self-important, materialistic world. Those who follow him must also become strangers.
In the Gospels, strangers and outcasts “get” Jesus’ teachings when others do not. Jesus, in turn, praises the foreign Samaritan who stops to help an injured man after the resident priest and Pharisee walked past him. The Samaritan empatheticaly responded to the man's suffering but the priest and Pharisee looked away, thinking that Jesus' teaching was absurd and inappropriate.
Jesus blazed the way to our eternal home, inviting all people to follow Him. Now, we follow that path with the consolations of faith and our temporary harbors, our churches. Even so, we are called with the apostles to go out and seek the wanderers, to offer them a place of rest among us. In the spirit of Abraham, we are called to offer hospitality—and who knows, we may find ourselves entertaining God.