More than a Handshake
What comes to your mind when you hear (or read) the word "hospitality"? Perhaps you think of well-planned dinner parties in an immaculately decorated home. Perhaps you think of the staff at a resort hotel going to great lengths in order to make your stay a pleasant one. Or maybe it is simply a spare room at a friend's house, a place that welcomed you on your travels.
I recently read a chapter of David Anderson's "Toward a Theology of Special Education" in which he proposes Biblical hospitality as a guiding principle in Christian classrooms. Anderson questions "the value of being able to access pubic buildings or programs if you continue to feel like an outsider, an alien in a strange world." I couldn't help but be reminded of a discussion in our Sunday School class this week, as we pondered the question, What does it mean to treat someone "like an unbeliever" (Matthew 18:17)? We discussed what it means to really "welcome" to our church someone that does not share our faith.
Welcoming people into our church, and into our homes, means something much more than physical access. Hospitality is more than a table to eat at or a bed to sleep on. It may begin with a handshake at the door, but it goes much further than that. It is a commitment to open our lives, to welcome another, to protect them, and to love them. The word used in Scripture, philoxenia, means "love of the stranger." Hospitality, as the author above suggested, means more than giving people access. It means lovingly removing the feeling of being an outsider.
Jesus commands us to extend that hospitality beyond the borders of our usual relationships and friendships and to do it in a way that does not consider how we may gain from it (Luke 14:12-14). Those to whom we show hospitality do not need to earn our good will - we offer it freely, just as God has loved us freely. Biblical hospitality rejects our tendency to view relationships in terms of what benefit they bring us, because it takes God's mercy as its great example. God welcomes us freely, having gone to great lengths to bring us into his home. Consider this week how you might be able to extend that same hospitality to others.