Most children are taught from a young age some version of ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ and ‘stranger danger’.
While that makes perfect sense in the instruction of cautious parents, the Christ follower is actually encouraged to take relational risks with a healthy amount of shrewd wisdom.
If you are willing to get close to strangers and people in trouble, you may occasionally experience a betrayal. That is not only happening with new faces, but more shockingly with the ones we have known a long time and put our trust in.
What we need to get over is the sense of social obligation, the idea that every relationship is a debt and reward transaction. In jail, if I show you kindness by giving you one of my juice boxes, you are now in my debt. ‘Remember that juice box I gave you? Now I need a favour from you. Shank that guard.’
That might be an exaggeration in some cases, but there are plenty of civilians living out of a constant sense of social obligation. I have to call them because they will be expecting it. It is going to cost me if I don’t pay attention to them.
You have potentially hospitable people who fret constantly because they feel that they have all these social debts to pay off with interest. The problem is that the account is never fully reconciled. You cannot maintain all of these obligatory niceties to prove that you are the kind of loving person you want us to think that you are.
There is another way to measure hospitality and the debt of love. It is the unmerited favour that is simply given as a ‘no strings attached’ gift.
What if our genuine concern for one another flowed out of the boundless supply of God’s grace that we have received from Him? What if we loved people simply because we understood ourselves to be deeply loved?
Rewards in the kingdom of heaven are given to those who serve without thought of reward. There is no hint of merit here, for God gives out of grace, not debt.
What if our suffering, poverty and earthly imprisonment experiences have nothing to do with our capacity to love others and show kindness to them? Would that be preferable and more rewarding than the risky world of social obligation?
Jesus, the one who best exemplified grace had this to say about your hospitality.
You didn’t do any of it because you were looking for a reward or felt that you were reluctantly obligated. You empathized with everyone because you knew the power of being shown mercy and grace. I paid the bill because someone else paid mine.