Radical Hospitality

Wrestling with Hospitality

Last Sunday, I was invited to preach in a Mennonite Church about hospitality. When I first heard that I was to be a guest speaker in their series on hospitality, I was super excited. I love showing hospitality and everything involved in it. Growing up, hospitality was a high value in my family. In fact, it had such a big influence on me. Now, my personality flourishes when I get the chance to care for my guests – my friends and the new people I meet. I truly enjoy being caught up in the business of cleaning up, preparing a meal, and making sure the guests are enjoying themselves. But I don’t think that is the kind of hospitality we find in the Bible.

As I wrestled with different scriptures referencing to hospitality, the more my view of hospitality was challenged. The more research I did on biblical hospitality the more it became clear to me that the true call to hospitality exceeds our understanding and practice of hospitality. Christine Pohl writes in her book Making Room: Rediscovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition: “[We see] hospitality as a nice extra if we have the time or the resources, but we rarely view it as a spiritual obligation or as a dynamic expression of vibrant Christianity.”1Christine Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), p. 4

Hospitality as a Spiritual Discipline

In our times it is so easy to be caught up in our career, our own life and dreams that we forget to look out for our neighbors, the people in our community. We come up with excuses like low energy, busyness or not enough space. There are many excuses that we come up with because we see hospitality as a nice extra that is linked to good food, coziness and easy entertainment. However, the Bible talks about hospitality in a different way. Hospitality is presented as a spiritual discipline, an action of love. Mostly it is shown as an attitude of humility and service toward the stranger.

Hospitality is not restricted to space, food and entertainment. The Greek word used for hospitality in the bible is φιλοξενία (philoxenia) and literally means love of strangers or love for strangers. This shows us that hospitality at its core is about relationships. It is about inviting the strangers, the people in our community, and the people we meet into our lives. Hospitality is spiritual discipline that invites us to share our hearts and our lives with each other. In a time of individualism and building walls people become more isolated and lonely. Often, our homes become a private sanctuary for ourselves. But biblical hospitality challenges us to share our space and our resources with the strangers, the lonely, the broken and the hopeless. At the table, in the sharing of food and stories, we realize that we are all people in need of relationships and community. We are all people in need of love and hope.

Being Guests

During my research on hospitality, I came across an interview with the Pentecostal theologian Amos Yong. In the interview he makes a bold statement: “Trinitarian hospitality is more about being guests than being hosts.” This thought was stuck with me for the rest of my sermon prep. Isn’t hospitality all about inviting in the stranger and serving him? Isn’t it about showing our best face, the clean house, the perfect meal? How can hospitality be more about being guests than hosting the stranger?

Biblical hospitality challenges our view of hospitality. It shows us how Jesus became a guest. In his becoming flesh and moving into the neighborhood, he becomes our guest. Observing the life of Jesus, we see that he was invited into the houses of the Pharisees, the tax collectors and other people he met. Instead of being the host, he was the guest. Although Jesus grew up in a home in Nazareth, during his ministry he had no place to lay his head [Luke 9:58]. He was a travelling teacher and so he relied on the hospitality of others. He was offered food and shelter. He was served as he shared about the coming of the heavenly kingdom. Finally, he was giving space to share his life. Interestingly, we find that everytime he got invited, he impacted people’s live. He changed their perspective and transformed their hearts. Through being a guest, he invited people into his kingdom and participating in building his kingdom.

The Transformative Power of Being Guests and Hosts

Hospitality has transformative power. Every time we make room for our guests, we make room for the Spirit of God also. In our usual framework of hospitality we have two categories. Hosts and guests. As hosts, we invite people on our terms. “We are still establishing the framework of the space of hospitality. We are in charge, then the other has to abide on our terms,” describes Yong. But when we are guests of God, when we invite the Spirit into our life, hospitality becomes a challenge to go and to be open to the stranger on their terms. It is about giving up control and becoming vulnerable with each other. In living out hospitality, we become equals at the table and invite God to move in our lives.

This is the transformative power of hospitality: To share our lives with each other as we open our homes to the strangers and listen to the Spirit move. Instead of setting a framework where we as hosts are in charge, we need to learn to give up our fear of the other. We need to give up our desire for control of the situation. Instead of inviting the people we already know and we feel safe around, we need to show hospitality to the people who are different. We need to be open to the work of the Spirit as we share our resources, our space and our hearts with the people around us and across the world. Hospitality is not simply a practice. It is a spiritual discipline as we follow Jesus and become more like him. At the table, in the breaking of bread and in sharing our stories transformation can happen.

Radical Hospitality

Father Daniel Homan writes in his book Radical Hospitality “The real question is not how dangerous the other is. The real question is how dangerous we become if we don’t learn to be more open.”2Daniel Homan and Lonni Pratt, Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2011), p. 37 The stranger might be different. He or she might have different ideas and thoughts than we do. The stranger might be weird. But there is no stranger. There is no other. There is Just Us and we need to learn to be more open. Because if we don’t, we become dangerous by being exclusive, by building walls and fences around our houses. We are cutting ourselves off from the stories that are out there. We become dangerous as we isolate ourselves not only from different people whose stories are rich and inspiring but also from the kingdom of God.

Let’s open our houses, let’s open our hearts, and become guests in the community of the triune God as we become guests in the lives of the people around us!

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Christine Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), p. 4
2. Daniel Homan and Lonni Pratt, Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2011), p. 37