On the face of it, hospitality seems so simple. Invite others . . . open the door . . . welcome them to the table.
While there are certain things we do, like making a casserole for someone or hosting a gathering, that show hospitality, it is when that openness is (perhaps less comfortably) shown to strangers that hospitality and faith are set in motion. When the generosity of hospitality is connected to God, the simpler aspects remain, but there is an even richer, more complex meaning to consider.
We know that reaching out to others is fundamental to our Christian faith, because Jesus made it so. His words in the Gospels show us how we can think of hospitality, and welcome, in relation to Him. “I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me . . . as you did not do it for one of the least of these others, you did not do it for me” (Matthew 25). This from the Son of God, who was a nomad himself and had no home of His own. Yet we see repeatedly in the scriptures that He still provided for others (with the best wine at Cana, with food for thousands, with bread for the disciples). Hospitality, Jesus shows us, is more about the heart than the home.
"Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing."
This is especially helpful given how stressful it can be to offer hospitality amid the hurry of life. We worry over the state of the house, the time and patience it takes, the quality and amount of the food and drink. We naturally feel more comfortable bringing together people we know and like. The challenge put to us in faith is how we think of our efforts at hospitality, which in light of the Gospel, asks us to give some form of loving welcome to people who are outside of our usual circle—in other words, welcoming “the stranger.” That welcome carries with it the call to relationship, to listening and conversation in ways that make someone else feel at home, even cherished—to feel the love of God through us.
In the heart of this more complex notion of Christian hospitality, there are some straightforward ways to show it to others as we go about our days. Welcoming everyone we meet requires only awareness to greet everyone we meet with warmth and kindness. The more we do this, the more we will do it next time, with ease. The more we smile for others, the better we are within, too. Thinking of these people we meet as eternal, as souls on the path to heaven just as we are, puts them in a new light. They may be strangers, but the interest we take in others no matter how simple it may be honors them with generous hospitality. The obvious and most typical sign of hospitality—for a meal, at our tables—remains a beautiful way to be hospitable. When we prioritize meals with real conversation and focus on (device free!) time at the table, we evoke holiness among everyone seated there.
That holiness is at the heart of any expression of hospitality we make, and touchpoints with holiness are a game-changer for our lives. Recipients of our generosity are changed in important ways by holy encounters, and we too are changed by our holy giving, for the better: with a deeper faith, a deeper understanding of Christ’s call, and a peace in knowing we are putting our lives and hearts on display for the good of all.