Hospitality was an extremely important part of ancient Jewish culture. The Old Testament is full of people who were known for their attitude of generosity toward strangers: Abraham, Rahab, and Laban just to name a few! In the New Testament, Jesus took it a step further. He ate with prostitutes and lepers, and when He could have taken a seat of honor at Passover, Jesus washed the feet of His apostles and hosted them instead.
“Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your 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 14:13-14)
There’s something about fall that brings people together. Maybe the cooler weather makes us desperate for warmth, maybe it’s the history of the harvest and people working together to prepare for the winter ahead, or maybe it’s as simple as needing 16 people to finish that Costco-sized pumpkin pie! At least for my family, autumn has always been the most intimate time of year.
I’m afraid that our culture is losing the art of hospitality in its truest sense. Hospitality isn’t about showing off your skills or wealth to people who might be impressed by those things. It is literally about making a traveler welcome, making a stranger feel like a friend. I have encountered people who do exactly what Jesus warns against: laying out an elaborate spread and inviting people who have the palate to really appreciate it and the ability to “pay them back” with a similar invitation a few weeks later. Instead of hospitality, this practice is really just an expression of pride. I have to confess, that I have been guilty of this too.
I don’t think that Jesus wants us to see inviting our friends or people of influence over for dinner as a sin, but hospitality cannot stop there. I have a friend who has never experienced an “exclusive” or even “usual” holiday dinner. When he was growing up, his parents always kept a guest room in their home and always planned for extra people at dinner, especially around the holidays.
It wasn’t unusual, in fact it was expected, for his father to come home on a holiday weekend with a hitch-hiker or other new friend who would have otherwise spent the holiday alone. They would use that opportunity to share a meal and share the love of Christ and His Gospel with that stranger, making him or her a member of the family for the holiday. Now that my friend has children of his own, that same hospitality is an important tradition in his home too.
Whether you’re celebrating the holidays, or just enjoying God’s bounty, consider Jesus’ example and instruction regarding hospitality. Could He be calling you to a new tradition of generosity to strangers this season?