Ancient oriental culture puts a high premium on hospitality. It was considered a great honor to serve strangers. The people believed they were serving God by serving their fellow man. The people of the East base this custom on the belief that something of God is in each person. Therefore, they were very welcoming, protective and courteous to strangers. Today, in an age when picking up hitchhikers is risky and people fear strangers, true hospitality is rare.
What is hospitality? What does it mean to be hospitable?
Hospitality, in Hebrew, literally means “the bringing in of guests and strangers.” Scripture is thick with this practice. More than once, God instructs his people to welcome the stranger because “you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” In Genesis 18, Abraham gives food to three strangers who turn out to be angels come to announce Isaac’s birth (it is to this event that Hebrews 13:2 refers when it instructs, “Do not forget to welcome strangers; for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”). The apostle Paul placed such a high value on hospitality that he listed it—along with temperance, sobriety, and gentleness—among the characteristics required of church leader.
What are some of the stages of hospitality?
· First, welcoming or the bringing in of guests and strangers. This also involves setting aside and preparing a welcoming space for the guest, stranger and the needy in our home and family.
· Second, the feeding and lodging of the guest, stranger, and the needy. In doing this your making your home and family a place of refuge and security for them. The basis of this is love and the understanding that all we have is from God and meant to be shared with others. Hence, hospitality is the overflowing of a heart that has to share what it has received.
· Third, the availability, the opening up of oneself, and the welcoming of the guest and the stranger into our hearts. As Christians, we aren’t meant simply to invite people into our homes, but into our lives as well. More so if our guest is Christ who is our Lord, Teacher and Savior.
This is the reason when Martha was distracted by her tasks came and asked Jesus: ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me'” (Lk 10:40). Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her” (Lk 10:41-42). Mary, by making herself available to Jesus in listening, has chosen the better part and has served the Lord in greatest hospitality as a host, friend and as a disciple of Jesus.
Christians and Jews hold in common one theological basis for hospitality: the Creation. Creation is the ultimate expression of God’s hospitality to his creatures. In the words of one rabbi, everything God created is a “manifestation of his kindness. [The} world is one big hospitality inn.” As church historian Amy Oden has put it, “God offers hospitality to all humanity … by establishing a home … for all.” To invite people into our home is to respond with gratitude to the God who made a home for us.
God calls us to do the same, not just in our homes or schools or places of business but, most especially, in our hearts. There, in such an intimate place of hospitality, we will come to hear God’s word of Love and salvation, spoken through the least of our brothers and sisters whom Jesus has identified himself when he said: “Whenever you do this to one of the least brethren of mine, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).