“Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.”
When Bill and I were in Paris two and a half months ago, we saw this phrase inscribed over a doorway in the second floor of the famous Shakespeare and Company Bookstore om the Left Bank of the Seine, across from the tragically charred Cathedral of Notre Dame. This is probably the most famous English-language bookstore in Paris, and it is a shrine to so many American expatriate writers who sought shelter there in the years following both World War I and World War II.
It seemed pretty surprising to see a paraphrase of a Bible verse (Hebrews 13:2 from this coming Sunday’s readings) in one of the most secular cities in Europe. However, it was the guiding principle of Sylvia Beach, the original owner of Shakespeare and Company bookstore back in 1919. She was known for allowing struggling writers to sleep upstairs on the second floor of her shop—in exchange for doing odd jobs around the shop and reading their own works aloud. That tradition continued when the new owner, George Whitman, was left the rights to the name by Ms. Beach, and continues with his daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman, who runs the bookstore to this day.
Yet the sentiment is solid. When strangers appear amongst us and seek shelter with us, they gift us with the opportunity to live out our gospel values in the full view of the world. And whether they actually are angels or not, we testify to the values of Christ when we welcome those who seek rest or relief as sojourners. In our gospel for this Sunday, Jesus speaks also of hospitality—of how to invite in the outcasts of the world, the marginalized, the scorned—for such hospitality is truly selfless, a giving without expecting any sort of favor in return.
This kind of hospitality has never been more necessary. May we find the courage to offer it, expecting nothing in return but obeying the command of Jesus—fourteen times in the New Testament alone– that we love one another.