In Genesis 14, there is an interesting story about first impressions and acceptance. It involves Abram (Abraham), the emerging father of the nation of Israel, and Melchizedek, the king of Salem and a “priest of God Most High.”
As Abraham returned victorious from a battle, Melchizedek brought out bread and wine and blessed Abraham. In response to this show of hospitality, Abraham gave him a tenth of the spoils of the victory.
The story’s impact comes not only from the act of hospitality on the part of Melchizedek, but the response of Abraham. The king of Salem was “the other.” He was neither part of Abraham’s family nor one of his friends. He was, however, a holy man and a”priest of God Most High.” He welcomed Abraham, cared for him, and blessed him. Abraham responded with openness and gratitude. Subsequently, this type of hospitality was expected among the Hebrew people. In the Old Testament, they are repeatedly directed to show hospitality for “the stranger within their gates.”
We often talk in the church about giving hospitality, but we might consider how we receive hospitality. Sometimes in our self-sufficiency and our pride, we fail to understand the blessing of the other, the stranger of the one who is unlike us. The stranger often comes bringing gifts that are both unexpected and needed.
In my personal life, I am thankful for those strangers who have helped me from time to time. Several years ago, my car slid off a snow-covered road and a “good Samaritan” showed up with a pickup and a chain to help get it back on the road. Two years ago, I was biking with my grandson at a park and ended up flat on my back after colliding with a tree (a small one, thankfully). A couple came by on the trail and stayed with us until a security man was summoned to take me out on a golf cart! In both cases, these strangers provided support in a time of need.
I am also grateful for those “strangers” and “outsiders” who have given me new insights about my life and ministry. They have provided a perspective that I often lacked. Brian McLaren has commented in A New Kind of Christianity, “And it’s the seekers who are welcome into a faith community that often transform that community, just as a new infant or adopted child can transform a family.” Fareed Zakaria pointed out on CNN Sunday that very often it is the immigrant who provides insights that change an organization or an industry. The outsider often sees things we cannot or offers the key piece to complete the puzzle.
Accepting these gifts requires a certain amount of humility on our part. If we lower our defenses, we can receive the blessings that God will provide for us though the outsider and the stranger, even as Abraham did.