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Lauren F. Winner
Sabbath and Strangers
When I first picked up Making Room, I imagined I would be reading about inviting people over for dinner or making sure your son's girlfriend feels welcome when she comes to visit. But Christine Pohl is concerned with the poor. I may envision potlucks when I think of hospitality, but Pohl means welcoming strangers. Christians today, she says bluntly, by and large are inhospitable: "today most understandings of hospitality have a minimal moral component—hospitality is a nice extra if we have the time or resources, but we rarely view it as a spiritual obligation or as a dynamic expression of vibrant Christianity."
Pohl demonstrates that hospitality is obligatory, "basic to who we are as followers of Jesus." It can be uncomfortable to show kindness to strangers, but Jesus did it, and so should we. The Bible, argues Pohl, requires the people of God to be hospitable. Hospitality first comes up in Genesis 18, with Abraham and Sarah welcoming three guests who prove to be angels. The passage, Pohl observes, is "unambiguously positive about welcoming strangers. It connects hospitality with the presence of God, with promise, and with blessing." In Kings, Elisha and Elijah are both taken in by women who do not know them; the "guests brought their hosts into special connection with God," and the hosts usually received more mundane re wards as well. In contrast, when Old Testament figures are intentionally inhospitable—consider the men of Sodom in Genesis 19 and Gibeah in Judges 19—they are destroyed.
Indeed, Pohl suggests that hospitality is integral to the overarching "grand narrative" of Israel's history: "Embedded within the covenant between God and Israel was Israel's identity as an alien and its related responsibility to sojourners and strangers." In turn, the New Testament both builds upon and transforms earlier teachings about hospitality: "Jesus gave his life so that persons could be welcomed into the Kingdom and in doing so linked hospitality, grace, and ...