Acts 2:14, 22-33
1 Peter 1:17-21
I was roaming about on the Internet and found a great website about travel to Greece called Mysterious Greece. With an extremely thorough portrayal of all that Greece has to offer, it makes Greece look like a must-see destination for everyone. In one of the blog posts, the writer speaks of the rich history of hospitality in the country and how we have a real need for a more welcoming demeanor in all aspects of our daily living. The post begins with the words, “If there is one Greek word that everyone should know it is this word— ‘philoxenia.’” The word literally means “friend to the stranger,” but the practice of this form of hospitality speaks to a much deeper reality and should rest near the top of all the virtues.
Philoxenia is actually a word I will bet few people know. Furthermore, it is an idea that seems to be increasingly absent from our modern experience. Practicing philoxenia means offering ourselves to others in a way that ensures their comfort and peace of mind. It requires graciousness and concern for others, even if that requires sacrifice.
Of course, philoxenia goes both ways. When hospitality is offered to me, I in turn need to be gracious toward my host and not make myself more of a burden than necessary. We live in a world where too many people feel entitled to something. The art of gratefulness seems lost to a time long gone. How many thank-you cards have you received lately? Then on the flip side, how many have you written lately?
As Christians we are called to practice radical graciousness and hospitality. Philoxenia should not be something we simply seek to practice, but should be a fundamental characteristic of each of us. It should be the way we live our lives daily. We can be “a friend to the stranger” in small ways each day and in greater ways when the call of Jesus Christ comes our way.
The story of the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 tells us of how the risen Lord met two men walking toward town. They did not recognize Jesus on their journey and they shared about the events of the past few days: how the Nazarene had been crucified, buried, and now some were saying the tomb was empty. In response, Jesus interpreted for them the Scriptures that spoke of the true meaning of such events.
When they had reached Emmaus, the two men made sure to offer their traveling companion a meal and place to stay. They practiced true philoxenia even though it seemed that Jesus was planning to continue on his walk. They were concerned about the late hour and fatigue from the journey. Surely they could not let this man continue on further. They opened up not only their home to him, but more importantly, their hearts.
It was at the meal, when Jesus broke bread for them, that they finally realized who had walked with them on that road. Their graciousness toward Jesus was honored through the revelation of his identity. True philoxenia if you ask me!
The fact is that we never really know what will happen when we offer hospitality to another. But when the Jesus in you greets the Jesus in another, the possibility for great things to happen increases. Too often we see welcoming others as simply a social convention. But it is so much more.
When we offer hospitality to another, we bear witness to Jesus who welcomes all, Gentile or Jew, servant or free. We offer ourselves to others not solely because it is the right thing to do, but because we are called to this lifestyle as disciples of Jesus Christ. We are called to a stewardship way of life where all we have is at the service of God and for the benefit of others. In this way, we will also attract others to Jesus. Our hospitality is a tool of evangelization. Without words, but instead with service, we share the good news.
Just like those two men on the road to Emmaus, the next time we find ourselves with the opportunity to practice philoxenia, I pray we respond with all the love and grace we can muster. They didn’t know the stranger in their midst was Jesus. Who knows whom we will meet on the road today!
“Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.”—Hebrews 13:2
“Today, in this confused world, how do people find Christ? It seems to me that the answer to this question is exceedingly simply: They meet him in a real Christian.”—Catherine Doherty
Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS
Lord, our God, source of all life,
you reveal yourself in the depths of our being
drawing us to share in your life and love.
Bless each of us as we respond to your Spirit’s
invitation to open wide the doors to Christ.
Make the doors of our hearts,
our homes and communities
wide enough to receive
all who need human love and fellowship,
narrow enough to shut out all envy,
prejudice and pride.
Let us hasten to welcome the stranger,
and so welcome your Son.
We make this prayer in his name,
Jesus Christ, our Lord.
—Prayer of Welcome, Catholic Diocese of Wollongong, NSW, Australia.