Hospitality does not come naturally to me; however, the desire to invite people in, to put them at ease and surround them with beauty, that is seated deep within me. As a new mother and young wife, I was eager to play the role of hostess for the holidays. I use to spend hours scrolling through Pinterest, pinning new recipes, searching for the perfect table decorations, and lamenting my pitifully small budget.
Since then, I have hosted countless dinners for friends and family. Each meal has become a little more relaxed and a little more authentic. My focus has shifted from the decor on my walls and the food coming out of my kitchen to the conversation shared around the table. In many ways, my understanding of hospitality has deepened over the years.
While studying the Gospel of John, I noticed how much of Christ’s ministry centered around food and fellowship. He was the host, and he was a guest. He ate on beaches, beside wells, in wealthy homes, and on breezy hillsides. The Old Testament prophets tell us he is preparing a feast for us with good food and great wine. A clear lover of parties, Christ’s time on earth could be summed up in two words: divine hospitality.
God’s Heart for Hospitality
At the heart of divine hospitality is a desire for redemption and reconciliation. As Americans, we have come to define hospitality as hosting our friends and family at a beautifully set table. But God’s definition of hospitality is seen in the Greek word used in the New Testament: “philoxenia,” literally meaning “the love of strangers” (Rom 12:13, Heb 13:2). God’s plan for hospitality has always been about welcoming the stranger and making him a part of his family.
Paul describes this vision in perfect poetry when he tells us in Ephesians 2:12-13:
Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of the promise, having no hope and without God in the word. But now in Christ Jesus, you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ Jesus. (NIV, emphasis mine)
We, who were far off, have been brought near. Once excluded, we are now included. We, who were strangers, are now called sons and daughters. This is the very heart of God and the mission of Christ. This is divine hospitality.
The Holy Trinity experiences perfect fellowship and love within themselves, and yet, God welcomes us, children of wrath- the worst possible house guests- into his perfect love. He washes our feet, places the family ring on our finger, and gives us a seat at his table.
As I reflect on this love, his beauty overwhelms me. This new understanding of divine hospitality sets me into motion, moving directly towards those I do not understand, even towards those who oppose me.
Who is “the other” in our lives? In our communities? I want to eat at their table. I want to invite them to eat at mine. We believe we have been called to love our neighbor. Though, perhaps we are stuck, unsure of what this love looks like.
I believe it looks like breaking bread with the marginalized and the excluded. It’s sharing a meal and a conversation with those who are nothing like you in the hopes that you can offer them your friendship, and ultimately, the love of God. It’s time to break bread with the transgendered, with the Trump supporter, with the pro-choice advocate, with the Muslim, with the Catholic, with the one-percenter, and the repeat offender.
As we gather with family and friends this holiday season, may it be with a new vision for hospitality. May we enter the new year with a heart to host and meet with those we do not understand. Because this is the gospel and a true act of love.