In the course of reading the familiar story of Abraham’s encounter with three strangers (Genesis 18)—a story I’ve read dozens of times—I was reminded of some of the experiences of thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail (AT). Could you imagine yourself driving along a relatively quiet rural two-lane highway, approaching a couple of scraggly looking characters with their thumbs out looking for a ride, pulling over to the side of the road, and inviting them to join you for a ride? Didn’t think so. But it’s a common experience along the AT. In fact, hikers pretty much count on someone extending the hospitality of a shared car ride into town so they can re-supply, rest, and eat—especially eat! And that’s just the beginning. Hikers share countless stories of total strangers inviting them to their homes for a meal, offering them food and/or drinks, and even putting them up for the night. Of course, the hikers really appreciate the hospitality, and they’re often surprised by who offers it (even “little old ladies” who want some company in their empty homes). But if the truth were told, those offering the hospitality gain at least as much as those who receive it. They’re frequently surprised by the people they meet, the stories they hear, the adventures they vicariously live, and even the feeling of goodwill that wells up as they bid their hiker-guests goodbye.
So back to the biblical story. Here’s Abraham trying to keep cool on a hot Middle Eastern afternoon, and off in the distance he sees three sojourners making their way…somewhere. How many of us would even bother to wave? Well, most might do that. But run out to greet them? Run? In the brutal heat? Were the visitors surprised by his approach? By his eagerness to meet them? But there’s more. He insists that these strangers detour from their path and come to his dwelling, so he can prepare them a meal. When was the last time that happened to you? Or that you so insistently offered? Surprising, isn’t it. Yet Abraham insisted, and they humbly accepted his invitation. Then after enjoying the meal, one of the strangers speaks up and totally surprises Abraham with a birth announcement—he’s going to be a father to Sarah’s son! Don’t forget, by the way, that the dad-to-be is 99 years old and his bride is pushing 90. Now, in our day and age such news might not be so thrilling, unless it concerned our grandchildren! But for Abraham, this was the fulfillment of a long-awaited promise. There’s no way he could’ve known that was coming when he graciously invited some strangers to dinner. Imagine all Abraham and Sarah would’ve missed had Abraham weakly waved as the strangers passed by.
Imagine all the surprises those gracious ride-givers, and food sharers, and hosts along the AT would miss if they just whisked on by, leaving their tailwind to tousle the straggly thru-hiker’s beard.
Imagine all we miss in our hurried, harried, self-absorbed lives.