I most often hear our parish described as a “welcoming community – you all are so hospitable.” Certainly that is a good thing, but it does get me musing about things. Do we all mean the same thing when we speak about hospitality? “Hospitality” for several of our parishioners is a specialty branch of civil law. Hospitality law covers topics such as the impact of federal and state civil rights laws on the hospitality industry, contract law, including discussions of remedies for overbooking and a guest’s breach of the contract regarding a reservation, negligence, risk management, innkeeper rights, guest rights, and employment practices – and that is just dipping a big toe in the waters of hospitality law.
“Hospitality” means something very different to our Bake Someone Happy and Hospitality ministries. A good part of these ministries is centered around food – something a lot closer to our individual experiences than the specialty law practice. When I think about our ministries and our own personal experiences, it raises the question of “entertaining.” I wonder if the way in which we “entertain” at our home is the same as hospitality. Merriam-Webster defines hospitality as relating to or denoting the housing or entertaining of visitors. So perhaps the answer is “yes.” Wonderful skills to have for entertaining might include the ability to whip up hors d’oeuvres, mixed drinks, a gourmet meal, and being a great baker doesn’t hurt. Of course that would mean I personally have little to no ability to be hospitable…if entertaining encompasses all of hospitality. Maybe it depends on your role model and the source of your ideas about hospitality. What about Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray, and Southern Living Magazine? What about mom or grandma? Or dad’s barbeque skills? Of course, we are a church of believing Christians, so perhaps it would be best to look to scripture. Consider Jesus’ advice about hospitality
12 Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. 13 Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; 14 blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14)
Jesus makes it clear for us that hospitality is meant primarily for those who are most estranged, and least welcomed. He was simply reiterating what God told his people in the Old Testament about how they should treat people on the margins:
34 You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)
God has been instructing his people for a long time to be welcoming to those in need, but we can see from Leviticus that the ultimate model of hospitality is God himself, in the welcome he extends to us through His Son. The essence of biblical hospitality is welcoming “strangers” and meeting their varied needs, since God welcomed and provided for us in Christ, when we were estranged from Him. So…who is a stranger and what hospitality do they need?