Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Jesus' Teachings on Hospitality Changed the World

Darryl Tippens, in his book "Pilgrim Heart", speaks fascinatingly of the role of hospitality in the early church.
According to social historian Rodney Stark, the revolutionary practice of hospitality helps to explain why the tiny Jesus movement became the dominant religion of the Western world by the fourth century. (p. 54)
The English word "hospitality" does not quite capture the meaning of the Greek word used in the New Testament. Philoxenia actually suggests loving foreigners or aliens. This is a challenging, paradoxical love: a kinship, friendship love extended to a stranger, someone not related or known to us. No one before Jesus had taken hospitality this far, but the early Christians became inflamed with the spirit of philoxenia, and this radical love of those on the margins (the sick, the hungry, the homeless, destitute widows, wayfarers) took the ancient world by storm. The evidence of its radical power is documented by the church fathers and historians of the ancient world. (p.55)
Tippens goes on to mention how Christians became known for their hospitality, even to pagans, in two catastrophic plagues that killed hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, in AD 165 and 260. (5000 people a day were dying in Rome at one point; two-thirds of Alexandria's population was wiped out.) During this time, Christians did something new in the world; they took care of the sick and weak and dying, often getting sick and dying themselves. This apparently made a great impression on the survivors, particularly the pagans. From this grew the Christian tradition of building hospitals and orphans' homes and Habitat for Humanity and The Salvation Army, etc.

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