Many faith traditions are rooted in the practice of hospitality; that kind and generous welcoming of visitors and strangers. Be it striving to serve the poor, welcoming refugees or embracing a child in foster care, it is often people of faith who seek to show hospitality and service to the hurting world around them.
What is it about hospitality that makes it such a far-reaching and transcendent value? One that often transcends time, culture and nationality? Perhaps it relates to the intrinsic human understanding of our need for one another. We experience seasons of plenty and seasons of want. In the times of plenty we share with those who are in need, and in the times of want we rely on those around us for support. Our families, our friends and our communities of faith all become an essential part of life, the ones we trust to lean on in difficult circumstances, and the ones we help carry when they need us.
As a Christian within the Mennonite tradition, hospitality has been woven into the fibers of my faith and family from a young age. My mother and grandmother taught me that when someone is in need, you bring them a meal. In the celebration of birth or the struggle of illness, we must care for one another.
I was taught in church to show hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:1-2) and that as a faith community, we are responsible to care for each other in times of need (Romans 12:13). I was also taught to accept hospitality. When difficult times met our family, as they inevitably do, we received the generous hospitality of friends, family and the extended community.
In the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:34), God commands His people, “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Those words can resonate with people all around the world. Many of us were once strangers in a strange land, or have descended from those who were. Refugees, immigrants and their descendants have a special understanding of the importance of hospitality, of acceptance.
The words of Jesus in Luke 14 revolutionized the way I view hospitality. “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Hospitality is not just inviting a friend over for tea or having your sister stay a few nights. Hospitality is costly. It’s giving a piece of your home and comfort, with no expectation of anything in return. Hospitality is not bringing someone into your Martha Stewart-like masterpiece of a dinner party, it’s opening your doors and allowing others to bring their mess in.
Last year my husband and I received an email from friends asking if we would consider taking in a teen boy in need of a home. We had met him a few times, but still felt like we were only a few short steps removed from strangers. We didn’t know what we should do. As semi-transient twenty-somethings, the idea of settling into a commitment like that was daunting. We don’t have a big house, or all the bells and whistles a teen might want. And so, we prayed together, and we searched the Scriptures. In the end, we decided to take a leap and just say yes. Neither of us were absolutely confident in the decision, but we were confident in the words of James—the words my parents spoke over me at my baptism almost ten years prior: “Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us.”
Pure faith before God meant opening our home, even when we were uncertain. Pure faith meant saying yes. And in opening our door to a stranger, God taught us new things we may not have learned any other way. In getting to know a smart, analytical young man, our lives were also enriched.
What if our hospitality extended beyond friends and family to those in need around us? The new refugee family down the street, or your new classmate who seems to be having trouble adjusting? Let us in our hospitality seek to make space in our homes and lives for those who are struggling to carve out their spot in the world. Let us lay down our defenses and allow people to not only bring their own brokenness, but to see ours as well. Let us give a kind and generous welcome to strangers, that they may be strangers no longer.