It would seem that in today’s world, people like to throw condemning words around: racism, bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia. In reality, Christians ought to be the least of all of these epithets, but this post is dealing with xenophobia. Xenophobia is a big word which means that a person fears foreigners (technically strangers). Some people are like an animal fearfully pinned into a corner that suddenly lashes out with all its strength, thus manifesting their fear as anger or hatred. They may not even realize what they are doing or saying; all the fear finally bursts out in an attempt to scare those who have scared them. Others however are more like those animals who feel helpless, and so all they can do is hide. They pull into their garages, shut the door, and retreat to the comforts of home. Only those they know are allowed in. Strangers? Too dangerous.
In Victor Hugo’s great work Les Misérables, Jean Valjean is on his way from prison to report to his parole officer in a different city. On his way a terrible storm comes upon him, and he is in search of a place to spend the evening. No one will allow him to stay because of his past. No one, that is, except a priest (Bishop Myriel) and his sister. The priest welcomes him into his home, to eat with him at his table, to sleep in his own room, and assured him that anything he needs or wants is at his disposal. In the middle of the night the priest and his sister are awakened by a pounding at the door. It’s the police. They found Jean Valjean running away with the priest’s stolen silverware. Myriel assured the officers that the things were given him, and that he, in fact, forgot the candle sticks.
What made the priest open his home and give his things away? His realization that all he had was actually not his at all, but God’s who gave it to him to steward. When he was no longer fearful about his things, nor even his life (as it has been said that we are immortal until God has finished his work through us), he was able to not have xenophobia, but in its stead show philoxenia. Philoxenia is the exact opposite of xenophobia. Philoxenia means “love of strangers.” The Bible translates this word as “hospitality.” Thus we see verses like, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares,” (Hebrews 13:2, ESV) and “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality,” (Romans 12:13, ESV). One could argue that Paul was saying show hospitality to the saints, but verse 14 doesn’t make that likely: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them,” (ESV).
This idea of philoxenia coupled with the idea of “loving your neighbor, as you love yourself,” tells me that Christians ought to be the least xenophobic people on the planet. If we believe that God is sovereign, that they are stewards of God’s resources, and that God’s Word is final, then why would we as believers not open up our homes as Christ has opened His home to us?
Inviting neighbors (or whoever) for coffee, dinner, a game night, or a bbq may seem old-fashioned to them (and to you). You may get some inquisitive looks. They may think that you’re different. They may think that you’re strange. That’s okay. Embrace it. That kind of difference and strangeness is attractive. At first, it may be an uncomfortable strangeéness, but soon most of your neighbors will embrace the hospitality you offer and so will you. I promise you that most people will believe that you want them in your church (and Christ) if they first believe you want them in your home.