The Greek word, xenos, gets a different spin in the New Testament than it does from the lips of Donald Trump or his British mini-me, Nigel Farage.
Xenos is the root of the word, xenophobia, which means fear of anything strange. It could be a strange food, a strange practice, but in today’s useage it most often refers to a fear of people who are strange to us.
Traveling in Belgium, my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the fish stew we got in a Flemish restaurant. “What was that round fish we ate,” we asked our waiter. “That was eel,” he replied. Without saying it, I was thinking, “Ewwww, eel.” It was a “strange” food to me. Nothing we would see in the Raley’s Market fish section.
I would be much more likely to order eel now on a return trip to Belgium. It was no longer strange to me, and I am thankful that I got to sample it; it was wonderful.
But too often we humans reject anything that we’ve not experienced before. Much like the child who says, “I don’t like carrots,” but who has never sampled carrots.
The New Testament pairs xenos with the surprising word, philia, which means love. The new word is philoxenos which is translated hospitality. But not hospitality in the American sense! This hospitality means inviting the stranger into one’s life. The New Testament pushes us outward.
Rather than withdrawing from the EU and building a higher fence, philoxenos instructs us to venture out and make friends of those that are “strange” to us. People that eat foods we don’t eat, wear clothes that can’t be found in Macy’s, or worship somewhere other than the neighborhood megachurch.
Building walls creates distrust, fear, ignorance, and even violence. Being hospitable, on the other hand, promotes understanding, fosters trust, and unites people.