The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. (Genesis 18:1-2)
Like many of us, Abraham had more than enough on his plate to keep him preoccupied. He had agreed to relocate from a comfortable life in one place to take up a much more difficult one in a new place. An aging man with an aging wife, he and his wife had wanted children but were now too old to think it was possible. And so with less comfort and a certain amount of disappointment that it looked like the end of his life would also mean the end of his family lineage, Abraham had every reason to be feeling sorry for himself.
So when three strangers approach his camp looing for a place to eat and rest, it would have been easy for him to have lots of reasons to not want to do it. The effort it takes to entertain strangers could have simply been too much and Abraham and Sarah could have simply told them they were tired and depressed, wished the travelers well, and sent them on their way.
But eastern culture is very focused on hospitality. To welcome these guests was deep in the cultural roots of Abraham and Sarah. So they opened their home and took care of these three travelers.
As the story unfolds Abraham and Sarah would be seen to have entertained God. The three travelers were the presence of God and their eventual announcement that Abraham and Sarah would still have a child was both prophetic (they did) and unbelievable (the announcement was greeted by Sarah with a laugh of disbelief). But it didn’t matter whether Abraham and Sarah believed the travelers’ message or not. God had come in these visitors, God had spoken in their voices, and God had already decided that Abraham and Sarah would have a child, in spite of their disbelief.
The story is a good reminder that everyone we meet brings the presence and image of God to us. When we encounter a new person at work, school, church, or elsewhere we are called to greet them with eyes wide open and watching for God to appear to us and even speak to us through these people. That means that all of us are called to be welcoming and caring people to everyone that we meet. While it may be easier and more comfortable to stay in our circles of friends, in risking being in relationship with new people we may discover that we open ourselves up to being more connected to God, as well. The book of Hebrews refers to the encounter of Abraham and Sarah with these three travelers in a clear and helpful way: Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)
This means that everyone we meet is a chance to play host to God and every encounter with each person matters.