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Reasons to Be More Hospitable

August 23, 2019 by

painting of a man holding a plate of food by a grillMy family recently returned from a trip to visit my wife’s family. If there were a MasterClass in hospitality, my in-laws could be the instructors.

Their generous attentiveness is exemplified in the thoughtful preparation of food, endless coffee refills “or would you rather have something cold,” appeals to “sit over here in the good chair,” willingness to take time and be present. When you can come into a home and feel peaceful and welcomed, that says more to me than any sermon (1 Pet. 4:9).

So how do people feel when they come to my house?

I’ll be honest: I am not always an enthusiastic host. When someone spontaneously drops by at the end of a long day, I’ve found myself responding with a silent scream: “Dear Lord, why.”

But that’s the thing about hospitality: it requires sacrifice, work, and deeds – like living out the gospel. Of course, we do need time to be alone as a family. But when we are just with our family members, the conversation tends to focus on our own thoughts and experiences. This can result in a very narrow worldview. There needs to be a balance.

And hosting is often transformative: A crappy day can be improved when we focus on another person’s needs. Some of our better family times have been times when we got to hear other people’s stories, to share in their experiences and burdens.

People needing care and attention surround us all. Our world shouldn’t be divided into “family” and “nonfamily,” “members” and “nonmembers” of a church, citizens and aliens. We are fellow humans, all created in the image of God; fellow travelers in need of each other.

Jesus depended on hospitality. One of my favorite examples of this is the time he invited himself to the house of Zacchaeus the tax collector (Luke 19:1–10). The people grumbled because Jesus had chosen to go to such a horrible man’s house. However, this dinner ended up changing Zacchaeus’s life:

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:8–10)

This brings me to another point: we are to invite outside our comfort zone. It’s trouble-free to hang out with the same people repeatedly – people who agree with us on everything, who we feel are worthy company, and who share our interests. But is this Christian hospitality (Luke 14:12–14)?

In her book Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, Christine Pohl writes that “hospitality is not optional for Christians, nor is it limited to those who are specially gifted for it. It is, instead, a necessary practice in the community of faith”:

God’s guest list includes a disconcerting number of poor and broken people, those who appear to bring little to any gathering except their need. The distinctive quality of Christian hospitality is that it offers a generous welcome to the “least,” without concern for advantage or benefit to the host. Such hospitality reflects God’s greater hospitality.

Early Irish Christians saw hospitality as a way of welcoming Christ himself into your home, and as crucial to entering the kingdom of God. An example of this welcoming spirit can be found in the fifth-century saint Brigid of Kildare. She welcomed any who came to her in need, as illustrated by a poem that has been attributed to her:

I should like a great lake of finest ale, for the King of Kings
I should like a table of the choicest food, for the family of heaven.
Let the ale be made from the fruits of faith, and the food be forgiving love.
I should welcome the poor to my feast, for they are God’s children.
I should welcome the sick to my feast, for they are God’s joy.
Let the poor sit with Jesus at the highest place, and the sick dance with the angels…

painting of Saint Brigid holding a pint of beer

We all experience times of loneliness even in the most ideal of community environments, times we wish there was someone willing to offer up a welcoming hand, to beckon us in off the road. I know I’ve felt that way and really should do better looking out for those around me. So the next time someone comes to my door, I hope my response is more of an affirmative “Hey, the door’s always open,” and not so much a reaction to my own feelings after a long day.

Because as time goes on, I’m more and more convinced discipleship is not about striving to do the big things for good, it’s the small acts of kindness, love, hope, and peace that matter – “Come, have a seat at our table,” “No, you come over here and take the good chair.”

Dorothy Day, in her book Loaves and Fishes, explains this all better:

One of the greatest evils of the day among those outside the proximity of the suffering poor is their sense of futility. Young people say, “What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?” They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the action of the present moment but we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.
The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us. When we begin to take the lowest place, to wash the feet of others, to love our brothers with that burning love, that passion, which led to the cross, then we can truly say, “Now I have begun.”

Artwork by the author.


About the author

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Jason Landsel

Jason lives in upstate New York at the Woodcrest Bruderhof.

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