The Reading: Hebrews 13:1-6
“… entertained angels unawares.” (v.2) RSV
Angels may appear as young men in white robes (but without wings!) or they may also appear as ordinary people. This does not mean that they are merely humans, but simply that their appearance can be like a human.
There have been countless stories of angels appearing beside vulnerable women walking home alone, or angels piloting planes during the war. I cannot vouch for these accounts myself, but I have no reason to disbelieve them. They are, after all, ‘ministering spirits’ sent by God to be messengers and protectors.
But angels according to our text may come in the form of a ‘stranger’ (v.2). They may come in the form of a beggar or a visitor at church. They are unexpected and unsummoned, yet they are there. Who knows why? Our passage does not explain that. But we are to treat all people with the respect and the hospitality that we would extend towards an angel, if we were but aware that he was an angel.
One of the benefits of hospitality to the host(ess) is that the stranger may be a ‘messenger’. That is one of the main purposes of an angel, and indeed their name (angel) means ‘messenger’.
There is a story in the Old Testament of three ‘men’ visiting Abram without warning. He showed them hospitality and gave them food. They brought with them an extraordinary message: “I will surely return to you in the spring, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” (Genesis 18:10). This was received with doubt by Abram and derision by Sarah. Nevertheless it came to pass as they had said.
Who knows what may happen and what message we may receive if we too are prepared to extend hospitality to strangers and unexpected visitors. They may be God’s gift to us.
Dear Lord, teach me to be generous-hearted and to be ready to receive the unexpected. Amen.
1 What were the angels doing in Jacob’s dream at Bethel?
2 What would Nathaniel see when his eyes were opened?