The Importance of Hospitality

Mishnah Avot 5:10   

There are four sorts of people.:

(1) He who says, “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours” —this is the average sort.

(2) “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine”—this is a boor.

(3) “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours”—this is a truly pious man.

(4) “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine”—this is a truly wicked man.1

Sounds pretty straightforward, eh? Until you realize that I left a small parenthetical statement out of line 1. The redactor of the Mishnah adds regarding the one who says, “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours”:

(And some say, “This is the sort of Sodom.”).

Now that throws one back on your heels a bit! It would be one thing if the wicked man was described as the sort of Sodom, but for someone who simply claims what’s mine is mine to be described this way, is another thing entirely!

Where did the rabbis get this idea? We are accustomed to thinking of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah as being sexual, but Ezekiel tells us:

Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. (Eze 16:49)

So it sounds like the sin that brought judgement on Sodom was inhospitality. This seems to agree with Jesus’ comment in the Gospel of Matthew:

And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. (Matt. 10:14-16)

Perhaps we need to rethink how much importance we give to the description of the primitive church in Acts 4.

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. (Acts 4:32)


[1]Jacob Neusner, The Mishnah : A New Translation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 687.

8 thoughts on “The Importance of Hospitality

  1. Something I’d still like to figure out is the connection between a lack of hospitality and the degradation of sexual mores–what is the link?

    But, as you point out, Don, the contrast given between Abraham’s overt hospitality and Sodom’s complete lack is instructive as well.

  2. Is this example in Genesis 19 really about sexual mores or was it more about arrogance and domination of and over others?

    Rape is rarely about sexual desire – most rapes are an attempt at showing domination and superiority – which fits the arrogance of Sodom…

    Just a thought

  3. The part I find to be interesting is how Lot offers his daughters over to be raped as an alternative (we see this story echoed in Judges) but the ironic twist in the story is that Lot ultimately ends up raped by his daughters…Now that is fascinating!

  4. The specific incident is more about aggression, but it is clear that the sexual mores of the community have completely degenerated. I think there’s a tie there somewhere to a complete void of hospitality, but I can’t put my finger on it yet.

    Indeed, the story is pregnant with tragic irony!

  5. Nate: I tend to read the Ezekiel verse as an indication of what kind of wickedness was being spoken of in Gen. 18:20ff. In other words, Sodom and Gomorrah weren’t being judged for what happens in chapter 19 (since it hadn’t happened yet). Rather, their major sin was that they “had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”

    Don: great observation of irony, I hadn’t thought of that.

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