Monday, June 29, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Hospitality 1


Once three brothers came to visit an old man in Scetis and one of them said to him, "Abba, I have committed to memory the Old and New Testaments." And the old man answered, "You have filled the air with words." The second one said to him, "I have written out the Old and New Testaments with my own hands." He said, "And you have filled the window-ledge with manuscripts." Then the third said, "The grass is growing up my chimney." And the old man replied, "You have driven away hospitality."

Some thoughts:

In the ancient world, hospitality was a sacred obligation, a holy act of love. It's quite the pity, I think, that for the most part, at least in the section of the USA where I live, that we do not offer hospitality to each other. Henri Nouwen writes in Reaching Out that when we entertain guests in our homes, we entertain God. What could be more lovely? It was not something to be avoided because one was too busy, too swamped. Hospitality was to be offered regardless of the cost to the host and hostess, even if it meant serving up the last bit of food in the house to the guest.

Now, I dunno about you, but I am deeply impressed that anyone could memorize the entire Bible. Not so the Abba of Scetis. I am also deeply impressed that someone could copy out the entire Bible in long hand. Not so the Abba of Scetis. As for the gentleman who has grass growing up his chimney... evidently his housekeeping leaves something to be desired because how could he cook anything without setting the place on fire?

The purpose of hospitality is to make the guest welcome, feel at home. It is not the time to impress the guest with long streams of memorized Scripture because what effect can that have but to inflate the ego of the one who recites and abash the one who hears. Abashing guests is not what hospitality is about.

Entertaining guests is also not the time to show off one's reams of paper upon which one has copied out the Bible. Ok, back then there was no printing press and if one wanted a copy of the Bible there was no other way to get them. But what effect could such industry have in one's guests except that ultimately they will be impressed with the industry of the hostess and feel that person is better than the guest. Belittling guests, however inadvertent, is not what hospitality is about.

The person with grass growing up the chimney is not only unable to offer hospitality but also demonstrates a lack of intention to do so. Keeping up with the housework, being prepared to do something other than one's own routine, these are what allows us to welcome guests as if they were Christ Himself.


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