“Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you.” (3 John 5)
Growing up, a portion of my family worked in the hospitality industry. Gorgeous bed-and-breakfasts. Wonderful hotels. And hosting. We were always hosting something or someone. In a family of hosts, you learn how important it is to welcome strangers. In the hospitality industry (which for those in it is not truly an ‘industry,’ but a way of life), one consistently encounters strangers. There are daily encounters with new faces and new names. And each requires hospitality, requires welcome. Guests become friends and friends become family as the act of welcome expands your world of relationships.
Among Christians, there are no strangers. There are only brothers, sisters, and friends. Hospitality as a core Christian virtue is underscored in John’s third short letter. Gaius, a friend and brother in Christ, is esteemed for the way he welcomed some never-before-seen Christians. Though strangers (literally ‘foreigners’), they were treated as family – as brothers and sisters in Christ.
It was ancient practice (dating all the way back to the New Testament) to call fellow Christians ‘brother’ and ‘sister.’ For some Christians, being adopted in God’s family meant separation from their biological family. Yet, in the Church they still had brothers and sisters. For some, this adoption expanded the family unit to include those who had once been strangers. Water became thicker than blood. God’s claim upon the Christian in baptism was more definitive than the biological ties within the family. As Jesus said, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt. 12:50). In Jesus Christ, a new family was created. This means that among Christians, there are no strangers. There are only brothers, sisters, and friends – some I have met and others I have not.
The creation of this new family in Christ is connected to the practice of hospitality. Hospitality is integral to the practice of Christian faith because it is caught up in our identity in Christ. Through adoption, we are claimed as God’s children and therefore brothers and sisters. Christians welcome other Christians as if they were their own family. Welcome should be our primary posture toward other Christians.
If we cannot welcome a brother or sister in Christ, how can we welcome the stranger in our midst?