In the midst of a religious setting based on publicity and prestige, Jesus, a first century Jewish prophet, protested. He had the audacity to claim that HE was the Son of God and that it was the criteria that He set up that was important. To explain His criteria Jesus sets up this scene of immense magnitude; all of heaven is watching and waiting before His throne at the end of the ages. He brings all humanity before them and judges them according to their deeds. He looks at those who fed the hungry, gave drink to those who were thirsty, invited strangers in, clothed the naked, visited the sick and imprisoned and invites them to join Him in everlasting glory. He looks at those who did not do these things and condemns them to eternal death. Then Jesus says to all humanity “truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even to the least of them, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40. NAS 95) Jesus takes the established religious system of His day and flips it onto its head. It is not about your religious service before God that matters, it is what you have done to the least of. Jesus clearly states that it is how one engages humanity around them that matters.
So here we are, 2009, reading this text. What does this mean for us? How do we apply this story in the midst of society, which so often claims to have evolved so far from the times of Jesus Christ? How are we bound to these words? The church of Jesus Christ through its first 1700 years found a way to truly embody the criteria to which Christ has laid out. It is simple, yet incredibly profound; it is hospitality. Hospitality is the embodiment of what Jesus said when He told the Pharisees that the second greatest commandment was to love your neighbor as yourself. The leaders then replies by asking Jesus who his neighbor was, which Jesus replied with a story. A Jewish man went on a journey and was attacked by thieves, which left him for dead. A priest and a Levite pass by him and do nothing while a Samaritan man (a sworn enemy of Jews) stops and saves his life. He brings him to an inn and pays for his stay; still not finished with his generosity, the Samaritan man tells the owner of the inn that when he returns, he will pay the outstanding bill. Jesus then asks the young leader which one showed mercy to the injured traveler; the leader replied that it was the Samaritan. Jesus then said to him, “go and do the same.” (Luke 10:36) If we believe what the Genesis writer wrote, that we are created in the image of God, why would we not help those in need? Yet, the early church writers went even farther; Saint Jerome implored the early church to “welcome the poor and strangers to your homely board, that with them Christ may be your guest.” The early church thought that when you invited strangers into your home, you might be inviting the very Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This came out of the tradition that believed that when the Patriarch Abraham served and showed hospitality to the three travelers that he was actually entertaining the Holy Trinity. (Genesis 18) As the Hebrew writer said “do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angles without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)
Yet what does hospitality look like for a 21st century Christian? It is not the kind you get at your local Howard Johnson. Hospitality is “welcoming strangers into a home and offering them food, shelter, and protection” and many in the early church felt that it was the “pillar on which all morality rested; it encompassed the good.” Gregory of Nyssa said, “the stranger, those who are naked, without food, infirm and imprisoned are the ones the Gospel intends for you. The wander and naked, and ill person without necessities stand in need by reason of their hardships. A homeless person or one with no work lacks life’s necessities; they are nevertheless imprisoned by illness. You have the fullness of the commandments with regard to these persons, so lend the Lord everything you have by showing mercy.” Those who are in need and those who cannot repay are the ones Christ and the early church has commanded us to go to. The beauty of it is that any of us can do it. This does not imply starting a soup kitchen or opening a thrift store, it implies that we open our home to those who need. It implies taking the words of Christ seriously and helping others simply on the basis that they are just that, others. I think this is what Paul meant when he told the Philippian church to “not look our for your own personal interests, but for the interests of others.” (Phil 2:4, my own translation.) I think hospitality in the 21st century is to have an open door policy and to have a preverbal sign in the yard that says “vacant.”
“The practice of hospitality forces abstract commitments to loving the neighbor, stranger, and enemy into practical and personal expressions of respect and care for actual neighbors, strangers, and enemies.” In a single phrase, showing hospitality to others is being “Jesus with skin on.” Hospitality is how we engage with the “least of these” and it is how we show the world a risen Christ; we embody Christ and we welcome Him into our lives. Hospitality is the way in which we join at the great feast of the past (tradition), we engage in the great feast of the present (practice) and we engage in the feast at the marriage supper of the Lamb (the not yet). So I encourage you, nay, I exhort you, “since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run the race set before us” (Heb 12:1); the race that has open hearts, open minds, and open homes. Amen.
 St. Jerome, Letter 52. And You Welcomed Me: A sourcebook on Hospitality in Early Christianity. Edited by Amy Oden. Abingdon Press: Nashville, 67.
 Pohl, Christine. Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian tradition. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, MI. 4.
 Pohl, Christine. Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian tradition. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, MI. 5.
 Gregory of Nyssa. Homily: as you did it to one of these, you did it to me. And You Welcomed Me: A sourcebook on Hospitality in Early Christianity. Edited by Amy Oden. Abingdon Press: Nashville, 59.
 Pohl, Christine. Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian tradition. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, MI. 75.
HASTENING THE DAY OF THE LORD