I was recently confronted anew by this question while reading the provocative parables of Peter Rollins in his book The Orthodox Heretic. In the book, Rollins gives us a parable of hospitality entitled “Salvation for a Demon.” The parable dramatically confronts us with the question of extending hospitality to monsters. It begins with a “kindly old priest” famous for his hospitality: “The priest welcomed all who came to his door and gave completely without prejudice or restraint. Each stranger was, to the priest, a neighbor in need and thus an incoming of Christ.” All well and good until a demon knocks on the church door in the middle of the night on a cold winter evening. The demon asks the priest “Will you welcome me in?” so that it can rest from its travels. “Without hesitation” the priest welcomes the demon inside the church. Once inside the demon destroys the holy artifacts and spits out curses and blasphemies. All the while the priest calmly continues his evening devotions until it is time for him to retire to his home. The demon follows the priest to his home and asks if the priest would welcome him inside to share a meal. Again, the priest extends hospitality, welcoming the demon into his home and sharing his evening dinner with the demon. Inside the house and during the meal, the demon continues to destroy the religious artifacts found in the house and to spew curses and blasphemies. The priest remains calm and peaceful. Finally, in the climax of the parable, the demon makes one final request, a final test of the priest’s hospitality: “Old man, you welcomed me first into your church and then into your house. I have one more request for you: will you now welcome me into your heart?” “Why, of course,” said the priest, “what I have is yours and what I am is yours.” This heart felt response brought the demon to a standstill, for by giving everything the priest had retained the very thing the demon sought to take. For the demon was unable to rob him of his kindness and his hospitality, his love and his compassion. And so the great demon left in defeat, never to return. . . . And the priest? He simply ascended this stairs, got into bed and drifted off to sleep, all the time wondering what guise his Christ would take next. In his commentary on the parable, Rollins calls this a story of “radical, impossible hospitality,” the hallmark of which is the unconditional embrace of the priest. Further, Rollins links his parable to the motifs we have observed in the monster story, the notion that the monster might not really be a monster at all. As Rollins concludes his commentary: To welcome the demon, in whatever form the demon takes, is all but impossible. But through our trying to show hospitality to the demon at our door, the demon may well be transformed by the grace that is shown. Or, we may come to realize that it was not really a demon at all, but just a broken, damaged person like ourselves. No doubt there is a breathtaking and inspiring quality in this vision of radical, unconditional, and impossible hospitality.
Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality (Beck, Richard)