Showing hospitality has a reputation for being sort of a thankless job. It’s the picture of the housewife working behind the scenes to clean the home, prepare food, bathe and groom the children for the husband’s boss that will be arriving soon.
Or the event planner for the eccentric executive who has a variety of last minute, not-so- convenient ideas that he would like to implement for the upcoming seminar.
Or the servers at the banquet who could just as well be robots passing around food and wine for as little attention as they seem to be receiving.
The one responsible for ensuring hospitality is creating the environment so that husband entertaining his boss can make a good impression, and whatever seminar that executive is hosting will 'wow' his audience, and all those people at the banquet can stay full of food and wine to keep the evening full of cheer.
So when we, as people of faith, talk about hospitality, how are we to do so? We know it’s an expected virtue. Multiple New Testament writers tell us we are to extend hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:2, Romans 12:13, 1 Peter 4:9). Paul, in his advice to Timothy about who might be a widow deserving of support, tells him that she must have had the reputation of showing hospitality (1 Timothy 5:10). It’s also a trait he demands of anyone who would be a leader within a community of believers (1 Timothy 3:2).
Real hospitality has to do with welcoming people, not just into an environment, but into a connection with the people in that environment. Particular to followers of Jesus, it is welcoming in those who perhaps haven’t found a welcome in society at large. His short list for invitees to a banquet were, “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” And such is the reason why the New Testament writers emphasize hospitality to strangers--they're the group not often welcomed in.
Being a stranger or feeling out of place somewhere is not something any of us are excited about. But it takes more than donuts and coffee to resolve that feeling. It takes a person showing an interest in us, opening up their own life to us, inviting us into more than a home or a building, but into friendship.
I’ve been on the receiving end of hospitality at various pivotal moments in my life, and it has made all the difference. And it wasn’t because I was a husband trying to impress a boss. And Lord knows I’ve never been an executive. And if anything I was the guy serving at the banquet. I received hospitality because someone saw me as a person searching, as a person who needed something that no display of intelligence, or donut or carnival ride could have given me in that moment.
Receiving genuine hospitality not only made me comfortable to open up my life to those who have now been some of my closest friends for over a decade, it compelled me to be sensitive and hospitable to those who feel estranged or out of place.
As a person of faith, hospitality should be a mark of your character. It’s not some gift that is isolated to certain people. Pay attention to people, recognize what they need in a moment, and welcome them, not just at your home or at your church, but into your life.