How to extend Christian hospitality

Good hospitality is not just about preparing a nice meal. It is about attending to each person in our midst and extending love without judgment or hesitation.

We’ve all attended a party where an uninvited guest makes it awkward for everyone. The gathering is taken hostage by inappropriate conversation or disruptive happenings. The host and her guests stare at their feet, hoping for a swift end. Yet, these awkward moments present us the opportunity to practice extending the fullness of Christian hospitality.

Jesus was a terrible house guest. Jesus graciously accepted dinner invitations from anyone -- corrupt tax collectors and pious religious leaders alike. But when he arrived and the guests settled in for the meal and conversation, Jesus’ first-century Palestine manners went out the window. He taught strange things about the kingdom of God, welcomed the presence of undesirable and uninvited guests, and spent time with women and children whose social status was null.

In Luke 7, a woman deemed sinful by the townspeople brings expensive perfume to anoint Jesus at the home of Simon, a Pharisee. Instead, she weeps enough tears that she is able to wash Jesus’ feet and dry them with her hair. Simon doesn’t think she belongs in his house and definitely disapproves of her touching Jesus in such an intimate way. He thinks this loudly enough that Jesus calls him out for his bad manners and poor hospitality.

The woman who didn’t belong there was a better host than Simon. The woman, believed to be a dirty outsider, was actually the person who knew Jesus for what he was -- the forgiver of all sins.

This story is instructive when we are thinking about hospitality, both how we treat those on the inside of our group and those on the outside. Hospitality is less about being the person who bought the food and prepared it nicely and more about being a people who attend to each person with love without hesitation.

We may like this idea in theory, but when it comes to our gatherings, we clump together with people just like us, expecting people to act and dress in ways that we have deemed appropriate. We feel uncomfortable when someone, flamboyantly dressed or a little rough around the edges, wanders into our gathering. We look at unknown people and immediately size them up, deciding whether they will be generous givers or greedy takers. We wonder if we should welcome them warmly or turn them away because maybe this ministry isn’t a good fit for them. We decide that some people are free loaders, beggars, too complicated or too difficult for our ministry.

These quick, often subconscious, assessments tell us that our vision for the kingdom of God is a space filled with our kind of people who affirm our way of living. They tell us that we are not yet practicing hospitality as Jesus did, that our hearts have room to grow.

Understanding the expansive hospitality of Jesus challenges us to see each person as God’s child, not as numbers for our evangelism head count or offering plate, not as conversion stories, and certainly not as people who don’t belong among us. We set aside our suspicions and open our hearts to the possibilities. Those disruptive and awkward moments at the party become an opportunity to look up from our feet and into the eyes of a person who Jesus welcomed into the party.