A short time ago, a Hungarian couple came to one of our churches in the circuit – they couldn’t speak much English. Upon the advice of one of our stewards they returned the next Sunday and there was someone who advised them where to go for a Hungarian speaking congregation. To my surprise they said that they wanted to return to our church (even with the language difficulty). That witnessed loudly, I think, to the hospitality that that church offers. In fact, I understand that that church now includes 17 nationalities in its fold.
Henri Nouwen said that one of the major spiritual movements in a Christian’s life is to go from hostility to hospitality.
In the Bible, the original Greek word for “hospitality” means “love of strangers.” The Bible contains references to a number of exemplary hosts. Abraham was venerated as a model for hosts: Genesis 18 tells how Abraham and Sarah were blessed with a child after they welcomed divine strangers. Ruth (Deuteronomy 23:3-6) and Rahab (Joshua 2 and 6), as unlikely hostesses, are precursors of the Good Samaritan, a person from a despised group of people who exemplifies hospitality. Joseph, the father of Jesus, is an example of a person who lived out the values of hospitality and justice. Had Joseph not welcomed Jesus into his house of lineage, Emmanuel (“God is with us”) would have been blocked from entering God’s house on earth.
For Jesus, hospitality meant not only welcoming strangers, but also doing justice. In Jesus’ parable of the two sons (Luke 15:11-32), the father shows hospitality to both sons, the one who has stayed with him and the one who has returned after wasting his inheritance on riotous living. He encourages the older son, who is angry about the good treatment of his prodigal brother, to be hospitable, too. The host does not judge whether or not the guest is worthy to be loved and helped, but simply provides hospitality.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, the New Creation of God avoids judgmental/exclusionary ways of relating to people by offering an ethic of hospitality and justice. In the ancient world where Jesus walked and talked, society established boundaries to protect itself from “contamination.”
Among the outcasts were persons with leprosy and other skin diseases.
Lepers had to be announced by the words, “Unclean, unclean!” and lived alone or in small groups separated from the rest of the community (Matthew 8:1-3). Into such a world entered Jesus. He reached out and embraced not only lepers and other outcasts, but the whole world.
Into the world today comes Jesus. The modern world is very different from the ancient one. Yet, in terms of human hopes and fears, today’s global community is so similar. Society still stigmatizes and discriminates against groups of people. Into the contemporary world, the Divine Healer brings the same gospel message of compassion, love, forgiveness, and justice as he did two thousand years ago. Jesus reaches out and embraces the whole world.
He invites us to join the household of God and asks us to offer hospitality to all. The One who says on Good Friday: “Woman, here is your Son. Son, here is your Mother” (John 19: 26-27), “calls us out to meet new brothers and sisters, new mothers and fathers and new sons and daughters” … and in so doing we will create a “new family that violates all old boundaries of exclusion and defensiveness” (Walter Bruegemann). The one who is the Resurrection and the Life shows us how to live and to help others to live.
My prayer is that we shall emulate these Biblical – and Jesus examples – that our churches shall become places of welcome and embrace. I salute the example set by one of our churches in this regard (I am simply using them as an example and I am sure that this is happening all over the circuit).
Prayer: Dear God, help us to become more hospitable, to open the doors of our hearts to you, to find more ways in which we can open the doors of our churches to all people. Teach us to be holy, to reach out to all those who have been created and loved by you. Amen.