God’s written word never ceases to be relevant. I encountered this truth first-hand while preparing my sermon on Matthew 25:31-46. This passage depicts Christ as both judge and king who separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep are placed on the right, signifying their righteousness. The goats are moved to the left, signaling their condemnation. The righteous sheep are those who (1) fed the hungry and gave water to the thirsty, (2) clothed the naked and welcomed the stranger, and (3) visited the sick and imprisoned. The goats, on the other hand, are those who did not do the above-mentioned acts of compassion. What struck me about this text was the Greek word for stranger. It’s xenos. Jesus says to the sheep, “I was a stranger (xenos) and you welcomed me” (Matt 25:35).
Given this background on xenos, consider this verse from the book of Hebrews: “Do not neglect to show hospitality (xenophilia) to strangers” (13:2). The New Testament’s word for hospitality is a combination of two other Greek words, xenos (stranger) and philia (love). Hospitality, according to the biblical witness, literally means to love the stranger. Loving the stranger means that we, as Jesus says in Matthew 25, are to welcome the stranger in our midst.
Welcoming the stranger is core ethical imperative for the Christian. And yet, many Christians today embody the opposite of xenophilia, which is xenophobia—fear of the stranger. Many Christians today fear the immigrant stranger, the black stranger, the white stranger, the Muslim stranger, the Jewish stranger, the gay stranger, the poor stranger, the rich stranger, the conservative stranger, the liberal stranger, and the list goes on. The Bible condemns such fear and, instead, calls forth our love. We are called to love the stranger, not because they are like us but simply because it is our God-given task. We hear God saying to his people in Deuteronomy 10: “For the Lord your God is God of Gods and Lord of lords who…loves the strangers” (vs. 17, 18). We love and welcome the stranger not only because it is a command but also because such love bears witness to the very heart of God.
(Rev. Will Wilson is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Kilgore. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org)