February 2022

Hospitality

When we hear the word “hospitality” we often think of a hotel or restaurant setting; a formal but “cozy” setting where coffee and cakes are served up with bland conversation. The idea of “hospitality” has lost much of its power for our generation and has become a sort of watered down reflection of Christian piety. Still, if there is a concept worth saving
and restoring to its original depth, it is the concept of Christian hospitality.

“Hospitality” is a Biblical term that can deepen and broaden our insight into human relationships. Old and New Testament stories show us our obligation to welcome the stranger, and also tell us that guests often bear precious and unexpected gifts. When Abraham received three strangers at Mamre and offered them water, bread and a fine tender calf, they revealed themselves as messengers from God and announced that Sarah would give birth to a son (Gen. 18:1-15). When the widow of Zarephath offered food and shelter to Elijah, he revealed himself as a man of God, he raised her son from the dead, and provided them with an abundance of food (I Kings 17:9-24). When the two travelers to Emmaus invited a stranger, who had joined them on the road, to stay with them for the night, he revealed himself to them as their Lord and Savior (Lk 24:13-35). The implications are clear. In the context of “hospitality” guest and host can reveal their most precious gifts and bring new life to each other.

Although it belongs to the core of the Christian life to reach out to strangers and invite them into our lives, it is important to recognize that this is not an easy or “natural” act. By nature we are more than likely to be ambivalent or even mistrustful of strangers. We say to each other: “You better hide your money, lock your door and chain your bike.” People who are unfamiliar, speak another language, have another color, wear different type clothes and live a life style different from our own, make us afraid and even hostile.

In fact the differences need not be all that great to make us feel uncomfortable. In a world so pervaded with competition, even people who are very close to each other, such as classmates, teammates, and colleagues at work, can become infected with fear and hostility. This is especially true if we see them as a threat to our intellectual or professional safety.

Hospitality breaks down the walls of competition and creates a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality does not try to change people, but it does offer them space where change can take place. It is not a subtle way of saying adopt my way of living, my thoughts, my beliefs, my church, my God, and my
concept of happiness. Instead, it creates a free space between us where we can each sing our own song, speak our own language, dance our own dances, and still celebrate some common ground.

When we invite someone into our church, our home, and our lives, this should not be a subtle invitation to adopt our lifestyle; but the gift of a chance to discover themselves as fellow heirs in the Kingdom of Heaven. The simplest invitation is still the best. When Philip recognized Jesus as the Messiah and spoke to Nathanael about it, he simply said: “Come and see” (Jn 1:46). The invitation gave Nathanael the space he needed to see the part he could play in this marvelous adventure we call the Church.

WHK

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