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!

Changing the Story

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” — Matthew 2:13, NRSV

We live in a world that needs a change in story. Repeating cycles of violence, physical and ideological, seem to indicate that we have made very little real progress in the ways we deal with each other. The dangers of forcefully keeping “peace,” drawing lines in the sand, and demonizing each other based on our differences have all been made known throughout history. Somehow, though, we just keep barreling toward whatever next great “fall” comes next.

Even as individual people, things seldom look better. We continue painful and self-destructive cycles believing “that’s just how I am.” We dismiss ourselves and one another based on the worst information we can obtain. Both us and the people around us suffer for our unwillingness to put down the burdens we carry.

So why is that? Why do we seem to always fall back into dangerous patters of behavior, both collectively and as individuals? Well… Change sucks.

Change is something humans resist. It scares us. If the rules, standards, and patterns are allowed to shift, there is less for us to cling to for support and stability. Unfortunately, the fear of instability and change causes us to resist, often to our hurt and that of others.

When we look at the story of Jesus, Herod violently opposes the idea of a new king, one that would, in the end, deliver the people from the oppressive reign of Rome. He seeks to destroy Jesus, and in the process, countless innocents are slaughtered (Matthew 2:16). The moral of the story? Change is not a neat process, and while it is absolutely necessary, resistance is to be expected.

I can’t prescribe much for changing the entire world, except that we as individuals need to start choosing different paths. If enough of us do that, taking a page out of Jesus’ story, perhaps things can start to look different. Rest assured, though the path of improvement is necessary, it is bound to meet resistance.

Others will try to keep us from changing. Mantras like “once a cheater, always a cheater” serve as examples of how we tend to write people off. When we start embracing the love of Christ in our lives, the resulting change will scare others. After all, if we hold ourselves accountable and begin the process of transformation, that means they can. The resistance we meet in others could come in the form of ridicule, cruelty, or rejection, and that is horrible.

But it pales in comparison to the resistance we will meet internally.

There will be tears, doubt, and a surge in the negative feelings and habits that we are trying to eradicate. Our ego will violently revolt, leading to some crappy days… weeks… months. We will want to quit and flee back to “safety.” But that is not the end of the story.

You see, as the life of Christ teaches us, the love of God cannot be stopped once it is welcomed into the world. Jesus met a horrific amount of resistance, and it ended up costing him his life. Yet the victory is ultimately his, and that promise is extended to you and I.

If we take one step at a time, we will eventually look up and see that we have traveled a great distance with the love of God lighting our way. We will meet the Herods, the Pharisees, the Pilates (not the exercise), the cross, and the grave, sometimes in others and sometimes within ourselves. However, if we keep in mind the victory God has already given us and the responsibility we have to keep walking in the Way, the story will continue, culminating in a moment when we look back and see the momentous changes God has brought to completion in us. What’s more, we may even see the many people who were positively touched by our journey all along the way.

It is my prayer that you will join me in trying to change the story. If we change ours, we also stand to change the world’s. This is going to take loads of patience, prayer, and self-love, and it will often be a painful road. Yet all of that pales in comparison to the blessing that will follow.

Peace be with you!