Reviewed by James Noland, pastor, Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, Vienna, Virginia
And You Welcomed Me: A Sourcebook on Hospitality in Early Christianity by Amy Oden
Amy G. Oden’s And You Welcomed Me is subtitled “A Sourcebook on Hospitality in Early Christianity,” but it offers much more than this modest description suggests. Along with readings from a wide variety of texts, carefully culled from the formative centuries of the faith, Oden’s intelligent commentaries and her wise ordering of this little known material constitute a subtle, but persuasive, argument, suggesting that the practice of hospitality is central to Christianity.
Oden presents an expansive view of hospitality. She understands hospitality as a “particular moral stance” which enables one to “enter another’s world.” At its heart, Christian hospitality is a form of metanoia or repentance, which connects the individual to a new form of community that is based on the insight that each human being bears the image of God. Hospitality is thus a form of worship, a way of honoring God by honoring those who bear God’s image. As such, it is an affirmative obligation, narrated in the stories of the Old Testament and displayed in the life and ministry of Jesus. In this context, Oden depicts the Eucharist as a vision of hospitality, a table fellowship that welcomes all of God’s children in a foretaste of heaven.
Oden has an impressive command of the literature, and she presents little know voices, such as that of Paula, a Roman matron who renounced her rank and privilege to live in poverty in the Holy Land, along side those that are more familiar, such as Augustine and Ambrose. This gives the work a texture of authenticity and makes for interesting reading.
Often the sources do not discuss hospitality per se; rather, they simply assume it as natural to Christianity. Allowing hospitality to emerge as a tacit presupposition of Christian identity makes her case all the more compelling. She also makes it clear that the distinction between “host and quest” is really quite fluid, because the early Christians understood themselves as sojourners whose true home was the heavenly Jerusalem. One is reminded here of Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon’s Resident Aliens.
And You Welcomed Me is not a “how to” book. It is really theology of an impressive sort, reminding readers of the riches of the Christian tradition. For a less challenging, more contemporary exploration of this topic, I would recommend Michele Hershberger’s A Christian View of Hospitality. But those who take the time to read the original material in Oden’s sourcebook will be richly rewarded.