Unless you have experienced the hospitality of the Middle Eastern culture, there is really no way to describe it. It seems impossible, in a way, to think of hospitality in an area of the country where there is so much hatred and violence taking place. Yet, hospitality in this region is seen as a sacred obligation. If you think about Bible times, living conditions were harsh and food hard to come by. Because of this, sitting down at a meal and sharing your food and drink with strangers was seen as the ultimate act of giving and hospitality. To open your tent and to eat at the table with people not of your own family was considered the essence of a peaceful and harmonious relationship. Job 31:32 says, ”but no stranger had to spend the night in the street; my door was always open to the traveler.”
In Genesis 18, we see the earliest biblical record of this Middle Eastern hospitality and love of the stranger. Abraham is sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day when he notices three strangers approaching his encampment. These are men that he doesn’t know or recognize. As soon as he spots them, he gets up and runs out to meet them and then bows before them and welcomes them into his camp. First of all, in the Middle East, grown men in their robes do not run! It is considered shameful and humiliating to pull up your robe, exposing your legs, to run. Also, at the end of chapter 17, the last thing that has happened to Abraham was that he was circumcised. Running would not have been an easy thing to do in his condition! Abraham humbles himself before these three men and washes their feet. Then, he calls them “Lord” and calls himself ,”your servant”. Next, he invites them into his tent to eat with his family. He orders his wife to knead three seahs of flour into bread and to cook it for these three strangers. How much flour and bread was that? Three seahs of flour, according to most scholars, would have been fifty to sixty five pounds of flour! That would have been enough bread for a month! Then Abraham ran out into his herd, got a young calf, had it killed and prepared to eat by one of his servants. Also, he had curds (like cheese) brought in to to eat. While the three strangers ate, Abraham stood by and watched, waiting to serve them.
It turns out that theses three strangers were two angels and God himself. By humbling and sharing with these three strangers whom he never even thought that he would see again, he ended up feeding God! Now, think about this New Testament verse and see if the author wasn’t referring back to this incident:
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers,for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
Now fast forward to the New Testament and listen to what Jesus says in Luke 13:21:
Again he asked,“What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Jesus used the exact same amount of flour that Abraham and Sarah used to describe what the Kingdom of Heaven was like! Was Jesus saying to His audience – who would have been well-versed in the Hebrew Scriptures – “The Kingdom of Heaven is like what Abraham did for the three strangers?” Abraham (and also us), in welcoming the stranger, was feeding God and ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus later enforces this by saying, “I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me something to eat, I was a stranger and you took me in (Matthew 25:35-40).” What a picture this paints of the Father and His eagerness to bring in the stranger and welcome him into His house! The idea of humbling ourselves and being anxious to be friendly towards people that are marginalized and outcast is an imposing thought for us westerners. We are not naturally inclined towards love for the stranger and more reserved in our approach to people. These verses are a poignant reminder of what Jesus expects from the people that carry his name.