Entertaining Angels

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. — Hebrews 13:2, NRSV

I have a habit of which I have recently become aware. When I am nervous, uncomfortable, or emotionally hurting, I hold my right fingers in my left hand, gripping them firmly. It’s something I have done since I was a child because it made me feel safe. My love language is touch, and when I was a boy I would hug myself or hold my hands like this when I couldn’t sleep. Somehow, this habit has stuck with me even as I approach the age of 30.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, the author talks about showing “hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Often, we who have heard this passage taught year after year immediately flip to the interpretation that our kindness should be automatic because literal, heavenly beings might be spying on us. I suppose this carries some weight, but after thinking on this habit of mine, I came to the conclusion that there is another way to approach this idea.

Every person bears God’s image. We learn this in Genesis 1, when God says as much (1:26-27). Even without that text, we know that all people are born capable of incredible and horrible things. Often, their choice between these two depends on their upbringing and experiences.

So let’s consider that for a moment.

My own experiences led to far-reaching consequences in the form of holding my own hand and resisting relationships that could hurt me. My wife has graciously and bravely contended with my issues over the years, both acknowledging my scars and refusing to let me be defined by them. While I am better than I was, I have hurt her and others, a reality which now horrifies me.

Odds are, the same is true for you. It’s likely that you have been shaped by many things, both negative and positive, and your less-than-desirable qualities have roots that go deep into the pain you carry. If you don’t think you have less-than-desirable qualities, congrats, we just found one.

So what does this have to do with the passage from Hebrews?

Just as you and I have our issues that can be explained by our past pain, so do others. Sure, they may not hold their own hand or be afraid of relationships. Maybe they are just raging jerks or internet trolls. Maybe they are alcoholics. Perhaps they abuse drugs or bully others. They could also be strict or uncompromising. They could be a mass shooter or terrorist. The point is, every person we meet has been shaped by their world. While they may not respond to it appropriately or responsibly, they still merit compassion because they were once a child like you or I, with all the potential in the world.

In that way, they are undercover angels, hidden by the ugliness of the world.

I am becoming more cognizant of how I treat others, especially those who are difficult or negative toward me, even when they aren’t around. Odds are, it all comes from their own pain, and while I don’t have to take their crap, I also don’t have to add to it by imitating their expression of pain. Perhaps if we can all learn this lesson together and put it into practice, we can see a world transformed by the compassion of Jesus, who calls out to us all.

Peace be with you!

Simple, Not Easy

My vows to thee I must perform, O God; I will render thank offerings to thee. — Psalm 56:12, RSV

One of the themes I’ve been touching (harping?) on frequently in recent posts, such as the one on Islam, is the idea that we are only responsible for our decisions to love God and our neighbor (or not). This life is short and full of opportunities in which we might witness to the love of God with our lives, but we often make that process more complicated than it needs to be.

Take the conversation about homeless persons, for example. Many of us don’t give money to panhandlers because “they might go buy drugs or booze with it.” I definitely appreciate this concern, as fueling someone’s self-destructive habits is certainly not something I want to be guilty of.

It is, however, important that we ask ourselves a question in this scenario. If, at the judgment, God asks us how we responded to someone’s apparent need, what will we be able to say? Sure, that person may choose to waste our kindness, but that is something for which they will have to answer. For me, the only choice I face is whether or not I meet a perceived need when I am able to do so.

This consideration is true for virtually any risky situation in which we are challenged to give of ourselves, especially when we may not be assured of any discernible positive effects. In Psalm 56, quoted at the beginning of this post, the speaker is being pursued by those “who seek to injure my cause,” and those “whose thoughts are against me for evil” (56:5). These people “band themselves together, they lurk,they watch my steps,” and yet the Psalmist’s decision is not to turn tail and flee (56:6). Instead, the speaker insists, “My vows to thee I must perform, O God; I will render thank offerings to thee” (56:12).

The proper response to any situation, even one in which we may be taken advantage of or “pursued without cause,” is faithfulness. Being faithful to God is found in following His commandments (1 John 3:22), and all commandments and prophets may be hung on the Christian calling to love God with all we have, and our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40). It’s certainly not easy, but it is rather simple.

This is a world in which we want assurance and security regarding the people and place in which we invest our kindness. Some of this comes from a good place, other times it’s mere selfishness. Therefore, it is my prayer that you will join me in practicing the Great Commandment. Jesus leaves us His example, healing and bringing the Good News to all, even those who would eventually crucify Him, and the invitation to follow is extended to us. Just remember, regardless of the uncertainty of the world, God’s faithfulness is something we can certainly depend on.

Peace be with you!