A STRANGER TAKEN IN
Mt 25: 31-45
Frank in Kissimmee
A Kansan who owned a general store made it a habit to offer a verse of Scripture
whenever anyone purchased something from him. The group of people who sat around the store
in this rural area enjoyed the exchanges because some of the purchases challenged the
imagination and the store owner's honesty.
One winter day a Texan stopped in, wanting to buy a blanket for his horse. The locals
knew that the store stocked two types of blankets. One sold for $60 and the second type
for $89.95. He showed the second type which cost $80.95 to the stranger. "That's not
good enough. Don't you understand? This is for my horse, and nothing's too good for my
horse. Now show me your most expensive blanket!"
The store became very quiet as the storekeeper reached under the counter, pulled out a
plaid blanket and spread it on the counter with great finesse. "This is our finest,
the only one I have. Colorfast, 100 percent wool with a very tight weave. It sells for
"Now you're talking," the stranger said. "I'll take it." He counted
out the money, folded the blanket, and left with a big grin on his face." As the
shopkeeper opened the cash drawer and carefully counted the money he said, "Matthew
25:35, altered version: 'He was a stranger and I took him in.'"
Today's lesson from Matthew is about hospitality. And this is not an example of what
not to do!
Christian hospitality is not about getting all we can from the stranger. It is about
giving the stranger a break ... opening our hearts and our arms to those that we do not
But, often this is not true of us. Religion is often just another way of getting our
way, a technique for justifying behavior that is self serving and down right rude.
MAJORING IN MINORS?
But, I do have a problem with today's text. It's not that I disagree with it. I just
wonder if it is all that important.
The great preacher of the last century, Charles Spurgeon, told his students that they
should "stick to the great themes of the faith" in preaching like redemption,
atonement or salvation. In other words, we shouldn't "major in minors."
And yet today's lesson seems to contradict that maxim. Jesus gives his disciples a
brief discourse on the importance of hospitality. How mundane! How utterly unimportant
this seems in the grand scheme of things. Surely we've got better things to do than to
talk about those whose manners are not what they should be.
And yet our Scripture for today suggests that little acts of hospitality might carry
more importance than we think.
THE IMPORTANCE OF HOSPITALITY
Jesus told his disciples, "Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me." Think of that.
Those who welcomed these rather ordinary disciples, these "little ones" whom
Jesus had commissioned to preach the gospel had in effect welcomed Jesus himself into
their homes .... and in turn had welcomed the very presence of God into their lives.
Do you ever feel that what you have to offer is not that important? Perhaps you have
more to give than you think. If even a "cup of cold water" can be significant
when given in God's name, maybe we ought to reconsider the importance of those so called
little acts of kindness that we have an opportunity to give or not give each and every
The Bible is filled with examples of the importance of being hospitable. Extending
hospitality to the stranger was considered a sacred task throughout the ancient world. For
example, in the Old Testament, we read the story about Abraham showing hospitality to
three strangers only to learn later that he was entertaining messengers from the Lord.
We see this connection between showing hospitality to others and the presence of the
Lord in the New Testament as well. In Hebrews 13:2 we read, "Do not neglect to show
hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing
Jesus told his disciples much the same thing on numerous occasions. For example, we
read in Matthew 25 that when we welcome those in need ... when we show hospitality toward
those who need food or clothing or a visit ... it is as if we have done it to the Lord.
The trouble with much of our preaching and teaching in the church is that it seems so
far removed from ordinary life. We have such big plans and bold dreams that we sometimes
forget about people and the small acts of concern which mean so much. Indeed, I think a
case could be made that these so called "small" acts are really quite large and
reflect what the kingdom is all about ... much more than many of our dreams and plans
which seem so important on paper but in reality do not advance the kingdom one little bit.
SALVATION AND HOSPITALITY
When you think about it, salvation is itself an act of hospitality. Jesus has reached
out to us. We were strangers, outsiders ... beyond the promise of salvation. And yet now
we are included in the family of God.
Does it not make sense that we are called to offer that same sort of hospitality to
That was (and is) the thinking of the Jews. They thought that it was important to
welcome and be hospitable to strangers because they themselves were at one time strangers,
captives in the land of Egypt. Their salvation from that situation as a people prompted
them to have a heart for the stranger.
I think the Bible clearly teaches that hospitality is not just a social nicety but a
concrete way of celebrating the salvation we have received from the Lord. It is a way to
give thanks for the grace of God in Jesus Christ and our liberation from slavery to sin
THE WAY OF THE WORLD
Once again we see how God's ways are not our ways. The way of hospitality is certainly
not the way of the world.
We build communities with high walls. There are alarms on our homes and cars. We are
afraid to make eye contact as we pass people on the street. The stranger is often seen as
a potential enemy to be avoided at all costs.
Now I know. We do live in a world that is dangerous. These are acts of self protection.
But, I would suggest that the same walls which keep strangers out also keep us in and
No one ever said that following Jesus would be without risk, and the ministry of
hospitality always involves some risk. Perhaps it has always been that way. If we welcome
someone into our life, there is always the possibility that our offer of hospitality will
be rejected or misused in some way.
We talked just a few weeks back about what got Jesus into trouble with the religious
authorities of his day. Do you remember what he was doing? He was eating with the wrong
people ... sinners and tax collectors. His hospitality, his welcoming of the wrong people
got him into trouble.
Be warned. Being hospitable to the wrong people will get you into trouble today as
well. But, hospitality is the call of one who would be a disciple.
DISTINCTIVENESS OF CHRISTIAN HOSPITALITY
Exactly what does it mean to be hospitable? Specifically, what is unique about
Well, first of all, I think it involves much more than baking cookies. (Although
cookies are often a part of the picture!)
One commentator put it this way, "Christian hospitality differs from social
entertaining. Entertaining focuses on the host--the home must be spotless; the food must
be well prepared and abundant; the host must appear relaxed and good-natured.
Hospitality, by contrast, focuses on the guests. Their needs--whether for a place to
stay, nourishing food, a listening ear, or acceptance--are the primary concern.
Hospitality can happen in a messy home. It can happen around a dinner table where the main
dish is canned soup. It can even happen while the host and the guest are doing chores
PUTTING ASIDE OUR AGENDA
In other words, being hospitable means making people feel at home. It is caring about
the people who come your way for who they are .....and not for what you want them to be or
how you can use them to achieve your goals. To practice hospitality, to welcome someone is
to bestow a kind of grace upon them.
This is not an easy thing to accomplish. We all have agendas ... things we want to do
... goals we want to achieve. This is not bad in and of itself.
But, sometimes our goals get in the way of hearing ... really hearing what the other
person wants to say and being sympathetic to their needs.
I have been invited to dinner where everything has been just right ... and yet
everything seemed all wrong. I did not feel welcome because I knew that the evening was
not in any way about me but about my host's need to entertain and obtain something from
On the other hand, a fellow worker's offer to share a cup of coffee and talk for just a
few minutes about a problem or a need has provided on more than one occasion one of the
most hospitable moments of my life.
The measure of hospitality is not in the amount of food but in the amount of love and
grace that is brought to the table.
These experiences have taught me that I need to prepare my heart to be a loving and
welcoming person. The more I can really let a person into my life without pretense .. the
more I can make them feel welcome ... and in turn the more I am able to perceive the
Spirit of the Lord working through our relationship.
We must learn to take a mystical view of other people. When we welcome them, we welcome
the very presence of Christ himself. That is hospitality at its highest and best.
How might we change if we really began to believe .... that in our simple acts of
kindness toward others we experience the presence of Christ? I certainly think that we
would be much less likely to be as critical and cantankerous as we often are with each
other. Instead, I think that our encounters with others would be marked by a sense of
respect and wonder.
HOSPITALITY, ANOTHER WORD FOR LOVE
In a way, the spirit of hospitality ... welcoming others into our lives in the name of
Jesus Christ is just another way of talking about a word that is very big in the Bible ...
that word we call "love."
John in his first letter wrote, Those who say, "I love God," and hate their
brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they
have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is
this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. 1 John 4:20-21
I take this to mean that hospitality is not an option for those who would love God.
Those who love God must first love their all too human (and sometimes less than lovable)
brothers and sisters. The reality of our faith is bound up in down to earth relationships.
Things aren't always as simple as they seem. What seemed like a rather mundane,
unspectacular virtue is treated by Jesus as very important. Hospitality, welcoming someone
in the name of Jesus is a sign of something greater.
It is a sign of a coming kingdom, a kingdom that is not closed off and walled up like
our society. It is a kingdom that is open to outsiders as well as insiders ... a kingdom
of people who through their acts of simple kindness have broken down barriers and have
preached the gospel of reconciliation in word and deed.
MORE IMPORTANT THAN SILENCE
This week as I surfed the internet for some insight on this passage, I ran across a
story that someone remembered about the late catholic priest and writer, Henri Nouwen.
Nouwen was going to a monastery for a retreat where the monks observed a vow of silence.
But, he was delayed by other commitments and was late getting to the monastery on a
miserable, rainy night.
He rang the bell well after bedtime and was met at the door by one of the brothers who
warmly greeted him, took his wet coat and brought him to the kitchen for a cup of tea.
As they chatted late into the night, Nouwen began to relax and feel ready for the
retreat, but he knew this monk was supposed to observe his vow of silence. So he asked
finally, "Why are you willing to talk with me?"
The monk replied that of all the rules of the Christian faith there is none higher than
the one which requires us to be hospitable.
I think that might be a good rule for us to follow as well. We might not observe a vow
of silence or live in a monastery, but we certainly have our "rules" as well.
There are many things that we do religiously.
But, nothing should ever take precedence over the call to welcome others in the name of
PROJECTS VERSUS RELATIONSHIPS
I talked with a person this past week who was a dynamo of energy. He had accomplished
much and was well on his way to accomplishing even more. He had plans for his church, and
he had plans for his life. It was obvious that here was a man who was very disciplined and
And yet, as he spoke, I sensed a certain sadness ... as if all his accomplishments and
activities were a way of running away from the intimacy that he needed in his life and yet
was afraid to embrace.
He was seeking a deeper faith experience, but he did not seem to understand that the
experience of faith often comes not by what we accomplish but by the relationships we
share with other Christians.
Many of us have that same problem.
NOT UNTIL NEXT WEEK
There was a minister who was told that his church was cold and unfriendly. So, in the
next service, the minister told his people that beginning next week they would take a
moment to greet the person behind them.
When there was a break, a man turned around and reached out his hand in friendship to a
woman behind him. She was shocked. And she promptly told him that they weren't required to
do that sort of thing until next Sunday.
That's a picture of who most of us are ... at least some of the time. We know Christian
fellowship and hospitality are important. We know that the Spirit of Christ is found in
our relationships with others but we also have a very strong desire to remain anonymous.
We don't want to let people get too close. Let's put it off until next week. For some a
handshake is too close. For others too close might mean letting someone see our true
feelings ... our fears, our doubts or our hopes.
We all have our limits, our barriers when it comes to welcoming others into our life.
BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS
But, I believe that Christ has given us the ministry of breaking down those barriers.
To be a disciple of Christ means to risk letting another person become a part of our life.
It is when we risk revealing who we really are (sinners saved by the grace of God in
Jesus Christ) that it is possible for others to make that same disclosure and receive that
Won't you welcome someone in the name of Jesus Christ this week?
A cup of cold water seems like such a small thing. But, is it really so small? Water is
a symbol of life, a necessity. We can't live without it. For those of us who have been
cutting grass in the hot Florida sun, it is a most precious gift.
And for those of us who are thirsty for the Spirit of Christ, it quenches an eternal
need. The reward for such a gift might be much greater than we could ever imagine.