The Book of Genesis can offer plenty of inspiration the next time someone crosses your threshold.
Today we often bemoan how basic manners seem to have fallen by the wayside. It’s challenging to even throw a party these days because no one RSVPs. And forget about thank-you notes. Yes, these are signs of the times, but we can find some guidance and inspiration in the Word of God, which is alive and present and can speak to our modern day challenges. Scripture provides plenty of reminders of how important good manners are and why we must continue to insist upon them even if they seem old fashioned.
One example is how we ought to welcome friends and family into our homes — an act otherwise known as hospitality. Despite what we see on Pinterest and Instagram, being hospitable isn’t about what we serve or don’t serve, or how fancy or formal we are. It’s first an foremost about our attitude towards our guests.
If we look at the efforts made by Abraham and Sarah in Genesis, Chapter 18, we find some valuable tips on how to approach those who enter our home. The chapter tells of Abraham’s reaction to finding three strangers at his dwelling. He doesn’t look upon them with suspicion, but greets them with respect:
“Sir, if it please you, do not go on past your servant. Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet, and then rest under the tree. Now that you have come to your servant, let me bring you a little food, that you may refresh yourselves; and afterward you may go on your way.” Genesis 18: 3-5
The visitors’ response to Abraham is “do as you have said,” which to our modern ears could be seen as a little curt, but Abraham doesn’t seem offended. Instead, he runs to his wife Sarah and gives her instructions to make bread; then he selects a “choice calf” to feed his guests.
The beauty of this story is that Abraham and Sarah didn’t question the importance of offering comfort and sustenance to their guests — three total strangers. No doubt they were busy, with a lot to do that day. But hospitality for the ancient peoples of the Middle East was considered a mitzvah, a commandment from God. If a stranger was in need of food or drink, or a place to rest or sleep, it was a sacred duty to see to those needs. Never mind your to-do list, there were people in your midst who needed to be welcomed and cared for.
What can Abraham and Sarah teach us today? For one thing, that hospitality isn’t about throwing parties with impressive cocktails, but treating anyone who comes into our home with respect. Today, when so many people are busy and lonely, anxious and depressed, something as simple as a warm welcome can be a life-changing balm. And Abraham and Sarah can also teach us that hospitality changes us. Not only does it teach us to set aside our own needs for someone else, but shows us that we never know what God wants to do for us through others. In Abraham’s and Sarah’s case, their three guests told them of a great promise: that the following year, the old couple would finally have a child. And so they did.
So even if we’re exhausted after work and there’s a knock on the door, we should remember the example of Abraham and Sarah and do our best to be grateful for visitors, remembering it is an opportunity to serve them, and in doing so, serving God Himself.