I wonder, how many of us has a guest bedroom? If yours is anything like mine it’s seldom used for a guest to sleep in and when it’s occupied, it’s by a family member or a friend. Our culture has taught us to be wary of the stranger. Many children are brought up with the phrase ‘stranger danger’ ringing in their ears and this no doubt sticks with them as they grow into adults. All this in spite of the fact that most violent acts are perpetrated by someone known to the victim. Yet, in Jesus’ time and culture a guest room was expected to be used, it was expected that the travelling stranger that knocked on the door would be given a meal and a room for the night. With such cultural differences it can be very difficult for us to conceive of being truly hospitable in the way that the gospel calls on us to be.s
It may be that we have to start being hospitable in small ways to those who are in need. Maybe we have to start with opening our hearts and minds to the needs of those who seem strange to us. Allowing those who seem strange to us to speak, whilst we listen deeply is something that we can all do.
There are many voices in our society who have been silenced and marginalised across the generations because allowing them to be who they are and have a stake in society has threatened the position of those in power. As a straight, white, able-bodied, middle-class male I embody the privileged minority who have done all they can down the generations to ensure their own prosperity, power and comfort. The voices of the LGBT, People of colour, the disabled, the working class and of women, among others, have been shouted down and silenced for too long. The Church of England, among other British institutions, has been complicit in that through its silence and lack of action. Though thankfully a desire to really listen to those who have been forced to remain on the margins is beginning to take hold. The time has come for all of us to be of hospitable spirit and allow places in our own lives for these different voices to be heard- through our reading, watching, and listening of their stories.
Our task is to take the time to shut up and allow those who are different to us, not as privileged as us, to speak to our hearts. Because it is only when we listen to the poor, the vulnerable, the oppressed and marginalised, and act on their stories that we can truly begin to live out the gospel in our lives. This means humbling ourselves, facing up to our complicity in silencing others through our own silence and inaction, and praying that our hearts and minds may be opened to new ways of listening to and participating in the lives of others.
To that end let us hear the words of Black American theologian, Dr James H. Cone:
“And yet the Christian gospel is more than a transcendent reality, more than “going to heaven when I die, to shout salvation as I fly.” It is also an immanent reality—a powerful liberating presence among the poor right now in their midst, “building them up where they are torn down and propping them up on every leaning side.” The gospel is found wherever poor people struggle for justice, fighting for their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”