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Host or Guest?

I learned a new word this week and have already put it into practice. The word is XENIA. It is an ancient Greek concept of hospitality, translated as guest-friendship. The Greek god Zeus is sometimes called Zeus Xenios in his role as protector of strangers. We are much more familiar with the negative use of this word, as in Xenophobia, which is a fear or dislike of people from other countries or who are different from us in some way. But I prefer the positive use of the word.

Xenia is a big part of many Biblical stories. In fact, many times that we as modern western readers don’t understand a story, it’s because of xenia elements that are foreign to our culture. The story of the Good Samaritan is an example of this. We secretly wonder if we meet Jesus’ definition of a neighbor. Let’s consider several references to anchor the idea of xenia: 

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2) In the first century church, hospitality was included in the job description for leaders. Our western culture does not value this Biblical requirement for church leaders today, but what if it did? What if the church, specifically Christians, were where someone could go when they were a stranger in town or needed help? I don’t know if I’ve entertained any angels but I do know that every time I’ve shown kindness to a stranger, I’ve been blessed in some way.

Jesus said, “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; in prison, and you came to Me.” In the story the righteous asked, “When did we do these things for you?” And Jesus answered “To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:35-40) Truly this is one of the most sobering passages spoken by Jesus.

And going back even further in time, to the very beginnings of the Judeo-Christian faith just after the Ten Commandments were given, we read: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9) So there it is, the foundation of xenia. We understand what it is like to be a stranger because we each have been a stranger in some context. We understand what it is like to be the new kid at school, starting a job, a stranger in a town. We understand being vulnerable, unsure, lonely, or insecure. We have been a stranger in some Egypt somewhere.

In California we walk right past people—at church, in our neighborhood, standing on the corner, shopping next to us. It would be odd to talk to a stranger. But in Idaho, we have had the privilege of being the new kids in town. The number of people we know in Hailey/Ketchum, Idaho can be counted on one hand. I decided to try out my new word, xenia. At the little 4th of July parade in town, I invited people on the street to come to our home afterward for a BBQ. The hilarious thing is that they came! It turns out many people around us feel like strangers. They are grateful for hospitality. Hopefully we have deepened their definition of Christian to include xenia, a kindness toward strangers. Either way, I’m happy to meet new friends!

Check out Romans 12:13 this week. At first glance it tells us to show hospitality, but if we dig deeper, we find it expresses a command to eagerly pursue hospitality. We are called to be a host, not a guest, in almost any conversation or encounter. Pursue xenia this week and see if you are not blessed!

Next week I’ll post my monthly mashup. Be sure to subscribe to my blog and visit www.MargaretAllen.org for resources. Please share your stories of xenia in the comments. Have a beautiful week, everyone!

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Coming Home

When many of us return home for Thanksgiving, we quickly revert to old family patterns and expectations. We’ve all seen it, the one labeled sensitive in junior high is still thought of as delicate. The favored one still gets the best seat at the table. The responsible one is still expected to do all the dishes and so on. Sometime we have to take a step back from what we think we know about each other and allow curiosity and openness to reveal what’s new.  Of any year in our lifetime, 2020 is surely the year to bring a fresh approach to our family time.

Believe it or not, Jesus went through this same scenario with His family. In Mark 3 we get the uncensored version of how some families respond to change. A multitude had surrounded Jesus so that He couldn’t even get a bite to eat. “But when His own people (His family) heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.””  (Mark 3:21) It’s almost as if his family was saying Dude, you are a carpenter not a rabbi! What the heck, man? The brothers of Jesus later grew accustomed to His new position and encouraged Him to go to Jerusalem for essentially a publicity hype to boost His popularity. Scripture doesn’t sugar-coat it by summarizing: “For even His brothers did not believe in Him.” (John 7:5) Jesus later defined family as “whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35)

Jesus spent the majority of His life in His family household. But His family only knew Him in the flesh. The did not know Him in the Spirit. They didn’t know His purpose or calling. They had to grow and process new information about Him just like everyone else. Many people He grew up around could not accept Jesus for who He became. They questioned, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son?” The passage concludes, “So they were offended at Him.” (Matthew 13:55-57) Is there offense in any of our gatherings?

In our homes over Thanksgiving, people we have known in the flesh will be gathered around our table. Instead of looking at them in the flesh- the way they speak and interact, the ways we’ve always known them to be, why not look at them with spiritual eyes? Ask God to reveal His calling on their life.  Ask God to give a glimpse into HIS heart for our families. We can ask God to give specific scripture for someone at our table. He alone knows what encourages us and reminds us that He sees our heart. This Thanksgiving, allow the Holy Spirit to usher in a refreshing presence of curiosity and acceptance. Surely this is the heart of creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion.

Next week I will share five tips for hosting a loving and beautiful holiday gathering. I’m excited for new ways of creating the culture we long to possess! Thanks to everyone who has been sharing my blog and remember you can sign up to receive it in your email by going to www.MargaretAllen.org and scrolling to the bottom of Monday’s with Margaret. We just started the second printing of my book, Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion.  Get it anywhere books are sold.