Just what is hospitality?
When we think about hospitality and the bible, we generally think about Martha and Mary hosting Jesus. And, we generally believe that Mary got it right. The truth is, neither one of them got it quite right! Why you might ask?
It is helpful to remember the origin and definition of biblical hospitality. In ancient Near East times, nomads practiced hospitality in the desert. A stranger would arrive at their camp, and it was common practice… even expected… that they would take in this stranger overnight, feed them, give them a place to sleep and care for them. In exchange, the stranger would share news with them… things that were going on in the world around them. Both contributions in the relationship were of equal value. The host depended on the stranger to stay informed and up to date on the news. Remember, no cell phones, no internet, no snail mail. This was it. It was a relationship of mutual trust and respect.
So hospitality is both giving and receiving…
There is a reaching out through simple acts of service, but also a drawing in of mutual gifts and surprises. Neither Mary nor Martha got it quite right, but Mary, according to Jesus chose the best part of hospitality.
Martha welcomed Jesus into her home by cooking and cleaning and sheltering Jesus and the others… but Mary, took time to engage and receive the news they had to share. Together, Mary and Martha would have been exemplary hosts to Jesus… but Martha mistakenly thought that it was only about giving and doing rather than receiving. She missed the gift of the stranger… the news Jesus came to share.
In a time where churches everywhere need to grow, the practice of hospitality has never been more important. And we Americans are not so great at it. We tend to be Marthas… doing and giving… but not really good at receiving the gifts or news that the stranger brings.
We can practice hospitality both individually as well as corporately.
In both cases, there is always a mutual exchange. The trouble is, most churches are not ready for a mutual exchange. And yet, the love of God is generative… it changes things… and as we open our church to the stranger bearing new gifts and new expressions of love and worship, we need to ask ourselves if we are ready for whatever shape that may take. There could be potential of deep hurt and injustice if we resist.
“(Hospitality) is a choice. We choose to reject suspicion as the first reaction to a stranger. We choose to minister along side of others rather than to them. We choose to let go of some of our own control when we meet strangers and when we interact with those we’ve known for years. We choose to expect surprises from strangers – good surprises that come from God.”– Michele Hershberger, A Christian View of Hospitality: Expecting Surprises
“Airbnb has proven that hospitality, generosity, and the simple act of trust between strangers can go a long way.” – Joe Gebbia, CEO Airbnb
I believe that churches can and will grow as we practice this kind of hospitality. But, we need to be ready when God brings new people through our doors to receive the gifts they bring. We need to let go of our fears, our suspicions and our need to control and open our hearts to the wonderful surprises that they bring. So how do we work at this? How do we flex our spiritual muscles when it comes to hospitality?
Here are a few things we can try:
As a family:
Invite someone to your home for a simple meal. Try preparing as much as you can ahead of time so that you can spend most of your time listening to their stories and getting to know them better. After they leave, take time as a family to name what you appreciated most about your guest. Do you think that you were enriched some how ? Did you grow in anyway? Did you learn something new?
As an individual:
Make a special effort to welcome a new neighbor or a new colleague at work. Try taking them out for coffee or simply drop off a housewarming gift. Go with the idea of getting to know them and finding something you can appreciate about them. After your time together, offer a simple prayer to God thanking God for the gift in that person.
Jesus once told a tale of sheep and goats. One group was successful in following Jesus the other group, well… it wasn’t. According to Jesus, the only difference between the two groups is what they did and didn’t do. One group was able to practice hospitality and one wasn’t… and that was important. Because Jesus told them, “Whenever you did it (Hospitality) for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.” – Matthew 25:40