Abraham was sitting in the shade of the oak trees at Mamre where he had settled and pitched his tent, when he saw three strangers approaching. Abraham’s first instinct was to offer hospitality, inviting them to join him in the shade and share refreshments and a meal. It’s a generous and welcoming gesture. I vividly remember getting off the bus at the central market in Lautoka, Fiji, on my first day and wandering around to stretch my legs before taking the next leg of my journey to the school in Ba where I was to teach for a year.
As I strolled around the town, a tall heavily built Fijian man with a broad grin on his face, crossed the road with outstretched hands to greet me. He took my hand and shook it and kept shaking it in a gesture of welcome. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before and at first I was wary – wondering what his motives were, but there were no ulterior motives – he simply wanted to welcome me to Fiji.
I invite you to think of moments in your life where you felt truly welcomed.
On another occasion while on a school break I flew to another Island, called the Garden Island, Taveuni, to the north and then took a boat across to the largest Island in the archipelago Vanua Levu. It was there that I shared a taxi with a group of young people who warmly invited me to stay with them in their village – they insisted and I felt truly welcomed. After staying the night I discovered what that hospitality meant to that family, for they had given up their own bed while the whole family slept on the floor. Have you ever experienced generosity like that?
The impact of such generosity is that it invites an echoing generosity – it opens our heart and at times our purses.
When Abraham offered his guests a place to rest, convivial conversation and the best kebabs a desert sheikh could offer, he discovered that he was entertaining angels unawares, as the letter to the Hebrews tells us. He found himself surprisingly in the presence of God. There are lots of surprises in this story and lots of laughter, because by the end Sarah – who has not been able to have a child and is now beyond child bearing age – learns that she will have a child after all. Yes, incredulous like us, she laughs in disbelief, but the wonderfully good news is that in the end her laughter is truly joyful as Isaac (meaning laughter) is in due course born. To most parents the birth of our children is truly a graced moment of joy in our lives.
What’s important for me in this story is that Abraham’s welcome and care for his unexpected guests was genuine. He was not manipulative – offering hospitality in order to get something in return. It’s what Jesus tells his disciples when he sends them out in mission, “You have been treated generously so live generously.” (Matthew 10:8 – The Message)
One of the marks of the Christian life is generosity, and when I say that I’m not referring simply to giving money to charity, that’s of course part of our generosity.
However generosity is so much more an attitude of heart – something we can cultivate – including how we share the resources we have – our personal gifts and talents as well as our finances.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews urges his readers to foster generosity when he writes, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” There is a clear reference to the story of Abraham welcoming his guests at Hebron with all the surprises that encounter gave.
What act of generosity has touched your life? What have you received, and more to the point how do you respond to the welcome and generosity you have received?