Keep on loving each other as family. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies. Hebrews 13:1-3
Hospitality is a tricky thing. In today’s modern western world, we often think of entertainment or putting on a big party as hospitality. Although that can be true, hospitality is really about cultivating deep relationships by making space in our hearts and schedules for another.
This distinction is important to keep in mind as we head into this holiday season. Yes, we want fun and celebration. God delights in our joy. But God invites us deeper: deeper into one another’s lives, deeper into the lives of those in our neighborhood, deeper into love, and life, and community.
In the Old Testament, part of the tithe was set aside for family celebration of God’s goodness (Thanksgiving?) See Dt. 12:7. Later, in Dt. 26:11-12, we have this elaboration:
Afterward you may go and celebrate because of all the good things the LORD your God has given to you and your household. Remember to include the Levites and the foreigners living among you in the celebration. “Every third year you must offer a special tithe of your crops. In this year of the special tithe you must give your tithes to the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows, so that they will have enough to eat in your towns.
Hospitality is given to family and friend, stranger and even foe. At one point Jesus instructs:
When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. (Luke 14:12-14)
Could it be that the people of Jesus’ day had forgotten some of the key elements to hospitality? Had it become purely a social nicety with records kept of whose turn it was to have the others over? Had their focus on the “acceptable people” pushed aside God’s desire for the inclusion of all?
Jesus made room in his life by giving and accepting hospitality from “tax collectors and sinners”(Mk. 2:15), “unclean women”, lepers, Gentiles, Samaritans, and others shoved to the margins of both religious and secular life. Jesus was demonstrating what it means to love family, neighbor, and even enemy. His actions often were in-your-face to the religious expectations of the day.
These ideas swirl in my mind as I ponder the nature of hospitality today.
- Have we lost sight of God’s desire for hospitality?
- Who are the people I invite to my table?
- Who are the people I accept invitations from?
- What does it look like to create space for relationships to form, grow, and flourish?
I wrote the following poem while living in Hong Kong. Every week a group of us would buy rice box dinners and tea, then fan out on the streets of Mong Kok to visit with the “street sleepers”. We would share meals, sit on the concrete (considered not acceptable), share stories, and pray. It was here that I learned, once again, what hospitality can look like.
They were not our projects. They were not really even our ministry. They became our friends. Mr. Lee was one such friend. He died suddenly while I was away in the US. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye, and it seemed the city was all too eager to sweep his memory away. Hospitality – his, mine, and God’s – ensures I will never forget.
In Memory of Mr. Lee
Warm hand outstretched in greeting.
Who would have thought this pearl of friendship
Would be hidden in a simple box of rice,
Purchased with only a few kind words?
Rats scurry for food
Carelessly tossed on the cool, damp concrete.
For ten years this was home.
For two years a place of fellowship
Where those filled with Jesus’ Spirit
Encountered another created in His image.
For eight long years
Tossed aside by the masses
Despised, rejected, familiar with grief.
But for those with eyes to see,
A painful reminder of how easily we
Abandon the One who fashions us in His likeness.
Mr. Lee, I will miss you.
Slipping from life just as you lived,
Alone, unnoticed by passersby.
For a short while we shared this journey of life.
Your home is now swept clean,
The brutal efficiency of the city
Leaves no trace
That this corner was once a place of worship.
Amid crowds, dirt, rats, and cardboard
We both encountered the love and grace of God.
May we meet once more
At the feast of God,
The banquet of life,
Where death, sorrow, and crying are no more.
This post was originally featured on Godspace, at that time the blog for Mustard Seed Associates where Andy worked for nine years. Be sure to check out Christine Sine's Godspacelight blog featuring more of Andy's writings as well as writers from around the world exploring many aspects of Christian spirituality.