Have you ever gone on a multi-state road trip with the family? Other than stuff to entertain the kids, what are some of the really important details you secure before you leave? For me, it’s car, cooler, snacks, gas, wallet. Having those assurances squared away gives me (us) peace of mind because we know we can handle whatever comes our way without depending on the hospitality of strangers. *Shudder. Needing help from strangers…what a scary thought.
Eerdmans Dictionary defines HOSPITALITY as “The practice of receiving and extending friendship to strangers.”1 Its roots lie deep in the nomadic cultures of the Ancient Near East that often found travelers totally dependent on strangers for the basic necessities of life. Rather than pulling into 7-11, pulling out their wallets, and stocking up, they would frequently go to an open place, with all of their resources spent and in desperate need, and then they would wait for an invitation.2 Once invited in, the host would provide water to wash their feet enacting the symbolic transformation from stranger to guest.3 Think for a moment what that must have been like for the traveler. The physical sensation of the water washing the road dirt off your feet, and the deeper feeling of knowing that you were welcome, safe, and would be cared for. That experience does not come cheap or easy.
Biblical hospitality is extravagant, inconvenient, and costly for the host. Recently circumcised Abraham prepared a meal in great haste—a plentiful meal including rare and valuable meat—and stood while his guests ate. Rehab risked her life to shelter the Jewish spies,4 and the starving widow and mother shared the very last of her provisions with Elijah.5 As a parent, responsible for the fiscal and emotional well-being of my family, that can be a daunting standard to live up to. How much is enough for my family before I help those who have even less? Hmmm.
Our own Judeo-Christian experience and identity as a wandering people provide a practical and theological undergirding for the sense of obligation to provide hospitality. The Isrealites remained aliens even in the Promised Land – tenants with God as their host.6 The prophets, including Jesus, used the imagery of food and feasting with God as host of the banquet when envisioning the eschatological day of salvation.7 Jesus served as host, in the feeding miracles,8 and by washing the disciples’ feet.9 Jesus was a guest, dependent upon the hospitality of others.10 He proclaimed God’s kingdom when he shared a table with tax collectors and sinners.11 And, by limiting his followers’ possessions when he sent them out on mission, Jesus forced them to depend on the hospitality of others as well.12
In our world of fierce independence and sanctified self-sufficiency, what is the lesson for parents today? Matthew points out that when we serves as hosts, we do so for Jesus with eternal implications.13 So clearly we must love those who depend on our hospitality and encourage our children to do the same—even if that means our families have less than we think they need(?). But, what about making ourselves dependent on the kindness of strangers?
It is our natural tendency to seek peace by securing the details of life and setting a sure and simple path for ourselves, but God has a different idea. He invites us to find peace in abundance in the mess and complication of offering hospitality to others and stretching ourselves until we also must depend on strength other than our own.
“To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (we are all exiles from heaven traveling in the world of popular culture), who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood (again, those of us who serve he Kingdom through the provision of hospitality): May grace and peace be yours in abundance” (1 Pet 1:1, 2).
Peace and joy!
1. Credit for much of the content and many of the citations goes to this fine research tool. Freedman, David Noel. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000.
2. Gen 19:1–3; Jud 19:15–21
3. Gen 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; Jud 19:21
4. Josh 2:1, 3; 6:17–25
5. 1 Kings 17:7–16
6. Lev 25:23
7. Isa 25:6–10
8. Mark 6:30–44
9. John 13:1–11
10. Matt. 8:20
11. Mark 2:15; Luke 7:34–50; 15:1–2; 19:1–10
12. Luke 10:4-12
13. Matthew 25:31–46