Hospitality. It sounds so beautiful and easy, so commonplace and something that people do anyway. The word ‘hospitality’ has many meanings for many people, such as inviting good friends over for dinner or the word used in the hospitality industry. These associations are indeed part of the meaning of the word, yet ‘hospitality’ in the Christian faith has a much deeper, promising and even dangerous meaning.
In both the Old and New Testaments, there are important texts dealing with hospitality. Some that can be singled out include:
Genesis 18; where Abraham receives three visitors and serves almost lavishly with roast cakes and veal. One of the guests then confirms the promise of a son to Sarah and Abraham – it will now come true!
Judges 19; that horrific story of the Levite and his concubine and how hospitality is shown to them as strangers. But the story ends with rape and murder; and a terrible disregard for women’s human dignity. Hospitality can also be dangerous!
The well-known story of the Good Samaritan in Matthew 22, Mark 12 and Luke 10 is a story about hospitality.
Romans 12:13 encourages believers: “… practice hospitality..”
In Hebrews 13, we find the beautiful verse 2, which tells of people who, without realizing it, housed guests as hospitable angels.
From these few texts, it is already clear that hospitality is an important biblical theme and that hospitality, according to the Bible, contains both surprises and horror. Yet it remains our calling.
Before we talk about believers’ command and calling to be hospitable, we must first think about God, who He is and how He acts. According to the Old Testament, our father, Abraham, was a wandering Aramaic, a stranger and a resident on this earth (eg Deuteronomy 26: 5). Abraham and we who as believers are called children of Abraham are here on earth only visitors, guests for a specified time… and God is our Host. This is where believers can begin in their thinking about hospitality as a calling, namely that God is the great Host on earth and we his guests.
The theme of hospitality can be approached from the Bible with so many angles that a choice is made here for one possibility, namely the table.
Yes, the perspective constantly jumps between one glass or the profiles of two faces looking at each other. Perhaps this picture is a good link between the table or cup on the (communion) table and the Christian virtue of hospitality. If we only focus on Luke’s two Bible books, we find Jesus in the Gospel every time he is sitting with people and in Acts it is the Holy Spirit who continues that work of Jesus. What do these table texts in Luke and Acts tell us about hospitality? What does this tell us about who Jesus is?
Luke 24’s story of the men of Emmaus shows us a Jesus who sits at the table taking the bread, blessing, breaking and sharing. In breaking the bread, they discover how Jesus, the risen Lord, is the actual Host of their table.
Two chapters earlier in Luke 22, we are told how Jesus imagines the Lord’s Supper on the darkest night. We can rightly speak of Holy Communion and again see how the table originated in a difficult, challenging time, but also intended for such a time.
Luke 14’s parable about the great meal is about hospitality, with the table as a core symbol. At the end of the parable, Luke shows us the table in the kingdom of God, but surprisingly the guests are the poor, the blind, the lame and the paralyzed. The last one is at God’s long table in his kingdom, the front seats.
In Luke 7, at Simon the Pharisee’s table, Jesus violates the prevailing rules of those times and includes a woman by letting her touch Him. Similarly, in Luke 5, Jesus also goes to table and radically crosses the boundaries by eating at home with a large number of publicans and other people at Levi, the publican, so that the scribes complained to the disciples by to ask: “Why does He eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
This cross-border, all-inclusive, radical hospitality of Jesus – a hospitality that allows us to look right into the heart of God – is continued in Acts through the work of the Holy Spirit where boundaries are further broken down and people joined God. s table is collected. This is exactly how the church is growing, through the hospitality of Spirit-filled people who have already sat at the table. Their hospitality is recognized by the first Christians.
To summarize: From Luke and Acts we can say that God is how He eats and that believers are also how they eat. Imagine a long, very long table where God Himself is the Host. A table where people sit down that we would often not expect to find there. Special place has been made – places of honor! – for the poor, blind, crippled and paralyzed. And yet, yes, Jesus always eats in the Gospel of Luke also with the Pharisees, precisely because He cared for them. The long table of God’s hospitality is longer than we can imagine. It often seems that we find exactly those people who exclude us from God’s table in our own minds. My last is God’s first. God is what He eats, or to put it differently, what His table looks like, His long table where, as we read in Luke 14, there is always “still room”.
These table manners of Jesus may sound like a pretty thought right now. However, we must remember that this has completely pushed against the boundaries that existed in the society of that time and which are present in any society today. Those who test and challenge these boundaries can, or rather will, embrace the wrath of others. As one New Testament person rightly noted, “Jesus was killed for the way He ate.”
In Luke 24 (Emmaus story), Cleopas and his fellow traveler at table with the stranger discover that they sit with no one less than the resurrected Jesus as their Host. Their table is actually his table. This discovery sets them in motion and they go on to tell. But even more … as the story goes on in Acts we see that believers not only tell, they also begin to cover tables and make room for others at their tables. Borders are crossed and people are included by true acts of hospitality. As the believers in Acts in all simplicity and joy ate and praised God, so we read, God also increased their numbers. Already in that first congregation it becomes a characteristic of the Church of Christ that the Host, Jesus, guests on this earth become themselves hosts and hostesses of God.
In Revelation 7 we get a vision where people of every nation, tribe, people and language stand before the throne of the Lamb. It is a vision that tells something of the day in which believers hope, as does the parable about the meal in the kingdom of God in Luke 14. In some of the worship services of the early churches, the Communion people, before enjoying the Lord’s Supper at the table for the first time, tasted only milk and honey. Why? To remind them that all the tables here on earth, however important they are, are temporary.
God our Host is on our way – on our way to a table He is covering for us. And meanwhile, our tables at our homes and in our congregations and our hospitality experience in this world are an important foretaste on earth of God’s waiting table. Believers’ hospitality bears the taste of that milk and honey of the heavenly table we hope for – long tables that radically want to include, especially those that are being rejected in our society.
It is Christian hospitality – not just a beautiful thought – but a virtue that makes believers at the same time guests and hosts / women of God.