“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Have you ever been offered a place to stay at a time of need in your life? Has a kind word or thoughtful presence helped you through a difficult season? Has someone welcomed and included you when you were a stranger? Has a home-cooked meal, hand-delivered to your door, lifted your spirits when you were suffering a loss?
These are instances of hospitality – when someone has opened up their life to include you and make your life better. Too often we think of hospitality in terms of entertaining friends or visitors and making sure they have a good time while they are with us. But hospitality encompasses so much more. Do we even think of hospitality as a spiritual practice? For most people, probably not. Yet when we read about Jesus and how he lived his life, we see many instances of him offering hospitality.
But wait a minute … how can a person who does not have a place to live offer hospitality? By opening up his life and making people feel valuable and welcome, giving them a sense of belonging, and taking away their feeling of being ‘the other,’ Jesus offered hospitality. He demonstrated that we do not need a house or a surplus of material possessions to do this.
Contrary to the social norms of his day, Jesus paid attention to women, accepted their presence and desire to listen to his teaching, and even talked with and defended them. He touched lepers, paid attention to Gentiles, and offered discipleship to uneducated fishermen from a rural area. To the religious leaders of his day these people were either outsiders, ‘less than,’ or unclean. In all he did, Jesus showed us how to be hospitable by being generous with his time, his respect, his love, and his attitude of inclusion.
Other examples of hospitality in the Bible include when Abraham and Sarah offer food and drink to three strangers who turn out to be angels (Genesis 18:1-10, NIV). Another is when Rahab offered a hiding place to two Israelite spies (Joshua 2, NIV). These are not just examples of the ancient eastern custom of hospitality, which helped ensure the survival of travelers and refugees, but they also illustrate God’s welcome towards us, His gift of grace for even the greatest sinner.
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it”
(Hebrews 13:2, NIV).