Friday, June 10, 2005

Desert Hospitality

I was thinking about the Genesis lectionary text for this Sunday, June 12, and it brought to my mind the concept of “hospitality.” And hospitality reminded me of a story told by Anthoeny de Mello. I don’t remember which of his books contains the story—maybe the The Song of the Bird. That’s just a guess.

What I remember best is that it was about hospitality from a desert perspective, which imposes duties on both the host and the guest. To me that means that one always welcomes the stranger into one’s tent and treats him like royalty, even if at other times he may be considered an enemy. I suppose that’s a result of the desert environment: the heat, the aridity, the barrenness, inhospitableness. To refuse someone hospitality in such a place is to possibly condemn that person to death.

De Mello’s story features the patriarch Abraham, as does Sunday’s lectionary text. However, it is a different story from that text—a story not found in the Bible. I shall tell it the best I can, although not as well as de Mello

Once upon a time an old man, a stranger, walked out of the desert and into the camp of Abraham, who greeted him as a host is to great all visitors. He opened his camp to this stranger, gave him refreshment, and ordered that a feast be prepared of the best that he had to offer.

When Abraham and the stranger sat down to eat, Abraham took a moment to than YHWH for the meal and to bless the stranger who dined with him. Before they could begin to eat, the stranger said he had to thank his god also. He then pulled a small wooden statue out of his robe. However, before he could begin to pray, Abraham jumped to his feet.

“Is this how you repay my hospitality?” he exclaimed. “I have sworn to my God to avoid all idols and you bring one into my tent and even pray to this piece of wood! Get out! Leave my sight and my camp!

So the stranger left Abraham’s tent and began walking back into the wilderness of the desert.

And God spoke to Abraham, “Abraham! Abraham! What are you doing? I have protected that old man all of his days; have given him all that he needs for life. And he has given thanks to that little piece of wood for all of the blessings that I have bestowed upon him. If I can love him and tolerate his misguided thanks for seventy years, can you not put up with him for one night? Go! Call him back to your camp and treat him to the hospitality that is his do.”

And Abraham did as God commanded.

In these days when the fear of people who are different from us seems to be driving us away from one another, I believe there is a lesson for each of us in de Mello’s story.

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