One night, Abraham was sitting by a fire eating, when a stranger came along. Abraham, being a hospitable person, invited the stranger to join him by the fire and eat with him. He fed this stranger as they warmed themselves by the fire, and Abraham welcomed the stranger into his house. However, as Abraham and the guest talked, the subject of religion came up and Abraham discovered that this man was a pagan. Not just a pagan; a pagan of the worst kind. Abraham – a zealous man – was incensed and threw the guest out of his house - sorry that he had shown such a man any hospitality. That night, as he slept, God came to Abraham in a dream.
“Abraham,” God said, “why did you throw this man out of your house?”
“He was a pagan and an abominable sinner,” Abraham answered.
After a moment, God said, “I have tolerated that man for 60 years, and you, you couldn’t tolerate warming him by your fire for a single night?”
Abraham awoke. He began to think about the dream and the realization hit him: the man was no different than he. Abraham had been a pagan as well, and for well over 60 years no less. The stranger that Abraham threw out was no different than himself, except for the grace of God. Abraham let his zealousness replace something that is even more important: hospitality.
In Luke 10, Jesus sends out seventy ahead of him to go where he “intended” to go. Jesus says to them: “Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who is a ‘son of peace’, your peace will rest on that person… Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (The “son of peace” is not usually in English translations, but is a beautiful Hebrew and Greek phrase/idiom).
Notice the prerequisite for saying “the kingdom of God has come near to you.” It is simple hospitality, nothing more, nothing less. There is no condition concerning conversion or anything of the sort here. It is about peace: peace and hospitality.
Too often it seems that modern Christians are of the “zealous” mind-set, like Abraham in the first story: the stranger could be a Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Hindu, and so forth. The question is not can we convert these people, but how can we live at peace with them. How can we be sons and daughters of peace? How can we live a hospitable life?
These are just some things I have been thinking about lately. (By the way, the story about Abraham is Jewish folklore and the picture is from the beach on the Mediterranean looking back into Tel Aviv).