In the Bible hospitality is focused on the alien, or stranger in need. They may be widows or orphans, poor or travellers who are in need of food and lodging. To be hospitable meant to openly welcome a stranger into one’s home or community.
The word hospital is closely related to hospitality and gives us some insight into its meaning. A hospital is a place people go when they are in need when they are ill, wounded or suffering. They go to receive assistance to deal with their problem, with the hope of healing and recovery.
Hospitality was not only important in the ancient world it is important in ours as well. In his book Reaching Out, author Henri Nouwen suggests,
Sadly, in our churches hospitality is often seen as no more than providing a cup of tea or coffee after our gathering on a Sunday morning. But what would mean if we sought to reclaim the Christian virtue of hospitality? What would happen if Hobart Baptist was known for the distinctive mark of hospitality?
“In our world full of strangers, estranged from their own past, culture and country, from their neighbours, friends and family, from their deepest self and their God, we witness a painful search for a hospitable place where life can be lived without fear and where community can be found . . . Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.”
It would mean more than what we do on Sunday mornings but would involve using our homes as places to help meet the needs of others. It wold involve creating spaces where a “stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.” This is far more than “entertainment,” it is a place of comfort, rest and healing.
Given that the apostle Peter instructed his readers to “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9) it is something we need to take note of. As Nouwen suggests the “church is perhaps one of the few places left where we can meet people who are different than we are but with whom we can form a larger family.”
May God find us willing to be hospitable to those we don’t know and may our homes be places they can become friends.
Stephen L Baxter