‘ . . . a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’ Luke 11:6
What does ‘hospitality’ mean? When we use the word today, it has lost the strength it had in times past. People will talk of working in the ‘hospitality industry’; hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfast, places where people receive food and accommodation in return for payment, that is not hospitality as it once was. Even for ourselves, hospitality has come to mean welcoming friends at our own convenience. In Jesus’ time it was altogether more demanding, it meant putting yourself out for others, without hesitation offering a welcome to those who came to the door, and certainly neither expecting nor receiving payment for what was considered to be your duty.
Hospitality is at the heart of being a Christian in Jesus’ teaching today. When Jesus is trying to teach his followers about God, he uses examples of generous human hospitality.
Look at Jesus’ teaching – firstly, there is the person whose friend has arrived at midnight on a journey. People didn’t much go out that late at night, everywhere would have been closed and bolted and in darkness and there would have been dangerous people around. Yet the guest must be fed, so he is prepared to go out into the dark and call at another house to try to get food. The one in the house where the person calls doesn’t want to get out of bed at such an hour of the night – the place is locked up and all his family are in bed, yet, because a person has called for help, he will get up and give the man what he needs.
This is the picture that Jesus uses to illustrate God’s generosity towards us, and, if we are to be God’s people, then this must be the standard of generosity that we show to others.
Being a Christian is about much more than just believing, it’s about following, about showing in our lives what we say we believe with our lips. The weakest part of the life of the church today is our discipleship, our living out of the Christian faith. What we say we believe on Sundays generally doesn’t make much difference to our lives during the rest of the week. Can we honestly say that most Christians have such conviction about their beliefs that they live lives that are noticeably more kind and generous than the lives of the people around? .
Jesus uses the example of hospitality because it is very simple and easily understood. It’s something that demands direct personal involvement, it asks much more of us than attending worship, or putting money in a basket or giving to charity, it asks that we get involved with people who are strangers, with people who are not like us, with people whom we might not even like.
Hospitality demands personal sacrifice and making sacrifices is not something that most of us want to do. We live our lives in a society that tells us that we should do things for ourselves because we are worth it, that our lives should be centred on our own self fulfilment. What we are told by the media and by the advertisers and the by so-called lifestyle experts is that what matters is what we want and that we shouldn’t do anything that doesn’t make us feel good. ‘How do you feel about that?’, we are asked, and if we don’t feel good, then we don’t do it. The way of hospitality, the way of Jesus, runs entirely contrary to the culture of advertising and image.
Jesus does not tell us that we should live our lives for ourselves; he tells us the very opposite, he tells us we should deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him. Self-denial means putting ourselves out and putting others first in real and tangible ways; Jesus says it is like providing food for a neighbour whose friends have arrived at dead of night. Jesus does not pretend that the choice to follow him is an easy choice. Jesus would tell us that we choose either living life God’s way, including all the practical, everyday sacrifices that demands, or we choose to live life our own way, and that we do not pretend to be Christians.
‘As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him ’, says Paul in the verses we read from second chapter of the Letter to the Colossians. Continuing to live in Jesus means you and I personally making our own response, in practical ways, each and every day. The way of hospitality is the way of self-sacrificial faith, if we are not prepared to behave as the man who is woken from his sleep by callers, then do we have the faith for which Jesus looks?