Hospitality likely isn’t something you think about much. Which makes you just like most American Christians.
To us, hospitality is essentially an industry built on tiny bottles of shampoo and the world’s most uncomfortable mattresses. Or perhaps every once in a great while, we’ll stay with our Aunt Gertrude, who we have not seen in about as many years as we’ve been alive, mind you, and as we leave, we thank her for her “hospitality.”
Hospitality, as it has existed for millennia in and out of the church, has been lost on us. Outsourced to industry.
There are many reasons why that has happened, but none of them are good. Luckily for both you and me, I’m not writing to condemn us for doing a bad job of offering hospitality, but rather to exhort us toward recovering a fundamental practice of the Kingdom of God and living out Christ-centered hospitality in our daily lives.
So What Exactly is Hospitality?
The word “hospitality” comes from the Latin root word hostis, which meant “stranger/enemy.” Hospitality, then, is the art and practice of transforming strangers/enemies into friends.
At its core, hospitality is the recognition of the image of God present in the stranger, and undertaking to serve the stranger as we have been served by the God of the Universe. Hospitality functions as a microcosm of the Gospel, a way in which we, as Christians, can actively participate in Kingdom work.
The work of Christ on the cross was, at its core, an act of hospitality – while we were strangers and enemies of God in our sin, Christ took the weight of our sin and brokenness on the cross, defeated death, and rose victoriously from the grave so that we might be friends of God (James 2:23). Hospitality, then, is Christ-like self-sacrifice on behalf of another who we do not know… yet.
Hospitality in the Bible
For millennia, hospitality in practice involved providing shelter, food, water, and rest to weary travelers. Genesis 18 recounts one of the first instances of hospitality that occurs in the Biblical text. Abraham and Sarah entertain the three “men”, one of whom is the Lord and two others who are angels.
Abraham drops everything he was doing to prepare the home for the visitors. He offers them shade under a tree, he has a choice calf butchered, and fresh bread baked from the finest flour. Abraham may or may not be aware that the Lord is among the travelers at the time, as Hebrew’s 13:2 records, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” What we do know is that taking in the stranger/enemy is near to the heart of God.
During the second temple period there were many would-be rabbis and faux-messiahs who, like Jesus, were itinerant preachers. More than a few of these “teachers” taught many of the same things Jesus did (even a broken clock is right twice a day, no?). But when Jesus arrived on the scene, he introduced a radical idea that nobody could have possibly come up with unless they happened to be, y’know, the God of Universe: “but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
This idea of loving your enemies was introduced even during a time when hospitality for travelers was commonplace, but Jesus commands Christians to go a step beyond basic hospitality by calling us to actively seek the wellbeing of our enemies.
Modeling the Hospitality of Christ
There’s no way we can do this on our own. It is only through the transformative empowerment of the Spirit that we can even begin to take on this enormous task. Christ has perfectly modeled hospitality for us by inviting us to His table through the sacrifice of His body and blood, and we accept His hospitality every time we partake in the eucharist (communion). The table of Christ is ever expanding and full of the best there is to offer and it is available to all, tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, and, miraculously, even to me.
During this heated political and global climate, consider what this might mean for us as the people of God. May we keep in mind the hospitality that has been offered to us and follow Christ’s lead by inviting messy and broken folks to our tables.
May your table be full of strange folks, good food, and good wine.