‘ . . . 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 people 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. For most people, hospitality has come to mean welcoming friends at their 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 often 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 people, and, if Christians are to be God’s people, then this must be the standard of generosity that Christians show to others.
Being a Christian is about much more than just believing, it’s about following, about showing in daily lives what is declared in the Creeds. The weakest part of the life of the church today is practical action, the living out of the Christian faith. What Christians say they believe on Sundays generally doesn’t make much difference to their 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 than attending worship, or putting money in a basket or giving to charity, it asks that people get involved with people who are strangers, with people who are not like them, with people whom they might not even like.
Hospitality demands personal sacrifice and making sacrifices is not something that most people want to do. Christians live their lives in a society that tells them that they should do things for themselves because they are worth it, that their lives should be centred on their own self fulfilment. What people are told by the media, and by the advertisers, and by the so-called lifestyle experts, is that what matters is what they want and that they shouldn’t do anything that doesn’t make them feel good. “How do you feel about that?” people are asked, and if they don’t feel good, then they 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 people they should live their lives for them selves; he tells them the very opposite, he tells them they should deny ourselves and take up their cross and follow him. Self-denial means putting themselves 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 people that they choose either living life God’s way, including all the practical, everyday sacrifices that demands, or they choose to live life their own way, and that they 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 from second chapter of the Letter to the Colossians. Continuing to live in Jesus means people personally making their own response, in practical ways, each and every day. The way of hospitality is the way of self-sacrificial faith, if people are not prepared to behave as the man who is woken from his sleep by callers, then do they have the faith for which Jesus looks?