Hospitality is one of my favorite words in the English language! It gives me nostalgia for the good old days around my grandma's kitchen table when her six sisters would gather together. Between the sips of coffee and Stella Dora cookies, the animated stories would spill out about Mum and Pup and their childhood. My grandma came from a big Italian family of 17 kids so, you can imagine, there were a lot of stories! Even at a young age, I knew something sacred was happening around the kitchen table, and I felt fortunate to be a part of it. The word hospitality wasn't even in my vocabulary at that age. Still, I knew whatever was happening made my heart happy. Even now, some 40 years later, those memories are my fondest.
My grandmother knew that hospitality expanded beyond her family and friends. She never passed up an opportunity to be kind and share the love of Christ with strangers or people who were not Christians. I witnessed this firsthand when she invited our neighbor's grandson for a meal. She not only fed him a meal, but she fed him, more importantly, spiritual food. She developed a relationship with him that would influence his life. That young man is now a minister, and it all started with a hot meal at the kitchen table.
Hospitality is at the heart of being a Christian. The most hospitable person that ever walked the earth is Jesus. Jesus was kind, generous, humble, and welcoming. He didn't do it through a Pinterest-worthy decorated dining room table! As far as we know, Jesus had no brick-and-mortar home, but he had a heart positioned to love and share the good news with everyone he came across. Jesus is an excellent example of entertaining strangers. He wasn't hospitable to only those who followed him but to those who did not. Scripture shows many examples in Jesus' ministry where he offers hospitality through his hands and heart.
The Samaritan woman is a beautiful example of how Jesus was indiscriminate in his hospitality. He approached her, asking for a drink of water when it was completely unheard of for Jews to have dealings with Samaritans. He used that opportunity to share the truth with her. Jesus knew she was a woman society frowned upon because of her five husbands, but that didn't stop him. Jesus received her and did not turn her away nor condemn her. His disciples weren't too happy about him talking with her, probably because they looked at the interaction from a human perspective that supported societal norms. But Jesus' interactions were always based on a spiritual view. Through his asking for a cup of water, he was able to change the course of her life. Isn't that powerful? Hospitality is central to sharing the Gospel message and was very important during biblical times.
In the New Testament, the Greek word translated as hospitality means "love of strangers." This is where we Christians fall short. We are pretty good with hospitality and fellowship when it comes to those we attend church with or have built a relationship with, but we often have difficulty reaching beyond our Christian walls. When we study scripture, we see that hospitality is essential in spreading the gospel. God commanded hospitality, and we see examples of this in Leviticus 19:33-34, "'When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God." God commanded that strangers not be treated differently; instead, he told them to love them as they would love themselves.
In Luke 14:13-14, Jesus says, "But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed because they can not repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just." If only the church in present-day practiced what Jesus preached, can you imagine the positive impact that could have on the world? We are preparing for Thanksgiving, and I wonder how many of us in the faith take this scripture and put it into practice. There is so much fear in the world of people we consider different or strangers that we are missing the opportunity to connect and be living examples of Christians who are the hands and feet of Jesus! In Luke 14:14, Jesus says you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just, and he also makes a similar mention of this in Matthew 25:35 when he talks about the Final Judgement and who will inherit the Kingdom of God. Jesus said when I was a stranger, you took me in, and in verse 40, he says, "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' This tells me that hospitality outside our comfortable Christian walls is vital to our walk as followers of Christ.
We can get caught up in the details of entertaining and define that as hospitality. In a world where picture-perfect matters, it often stops us from inviting folks for coffee or a meal because we are worried about the house being clean enough or the table set just right; none of this matters with genuine hospitality. Being hospitable means being welcoming, kind, inviting, non-judgmental, and a soft and safe place for people to land.
My father passed away on October 9. Nothing could prepare me for the waves of overwhelming grief that I have experienced in this last month. But, what has been Jesus' tender mercies are the people who have shown my family and me such sweet hospitality. From the day my dad passed away, people surrounded us with prayers, food, visits, texts, cards, hugs, and indescribable kindness. Friends from high school came and held me up when I could barely stand. I haven't lived in my hometown in decades, yet they received me in a way that gave me a little refuge in the storm.
In Psalm 23, the Psalmist talks about the House of the Lord and how he prepares a table for us. He anoints the head with oil, and the cup overflows—what beautiful imagery of how the Lord prepares a place for us. He takes in the weary. When we show hospitality, we may not realize that we are modeling what the Lord does for the weary in our humble service to others.
This Thanksgiving and in the future, I hope we rethink hospitality and take some time to examine the barriers that stop us from practicing authentic, biblically-based hospitality. Let's push ourselves to go beyond the typical entertaining of guests, get to the heart of what hospitality is, and share the word of God. It starts with a simple hello, as Jesus did for the Samaritan woman at the well. Position your heart for hospitality and be an example of what is so lacking and desperately needed in this world...love.