If Jesus–sent from the hospitable heart of God–is the paradigm for all our hospitality, then like Jesus, we must love the stranger, the unloved, and the needy. After all, when when we were poor and needy, Jesus took us in.
But Jesus didn’t just offer hospitality, he received it. In his humanity, he relied on the hospitality of strangers to conduct his itinerant mission. This is how we meet Peter’s family and how we come to know Mary, Martha and Lazarus. After Jesus returned to heaven, his apostles continued this trend often making the homes of new converts a base for their gospel preaching operations. This is how we meet Lydia. Priscilla and Aquila played a similar hospitable role to Paul when they partnered with him in Corinth and again in Ephesus when they more fully instructed Apollos on Christian doctrine.
Like Jesus, hospitality for believers involves both giving and receiving. At the inception of the church, Christians extended hospitality to one another by sharing their resources. Many went so far as to sell off their property and donated the proceeds for the apostles to distribute as needs arose.
When persecution of believers spiked in one quadrant of the world–making believers societal outcasts–collections were taken in all the other churches to provide for their relief. Those who were imprisoned for their faith (like Paul) had to rely on gifts from God’s people to supply their basic needs. The church was and continues to be dependent on the hospitality of its members. This is one of the means God uses to provide for his people. Peter knew this and so reminded believers in the Asian churches, “to love one another earnestly and to show hospitality without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9)
So, hospitality is more than a meal. It is a loving disposition toward your neighbor–and not just the nice-looking, clean-smelling, all-her-ducks-in-a-row-friend-from-church-neighbor, but also the ones who aren’t all that pleasant smelling and the ones who can’t even pretend to have it all together, and even the ones who might take advantage of you. It’s a heart of mercy toward the stranger; it’s a generous heart of love toward fellow believers; it’s a benevolent heart that seeks to meet the needs of missionaries. Hospitality begins with a heart of love and out of that abundance overflows into many good works. Hospitality is using our resources to meet the needs of others. It can be more and it can be less than a meal. It can look like an encouraging word, a listening ear, wise counsel, a bag of groceries, a ride to the doctor, an errand run, an after school pick-up, child care, a hospital visit, a check to cover an unexpected bill. Hospitality takes many different forms, but it is always the cheerful offering up of our own resources to help meet the needs of those around us.
And when we freely and lovingly offer up those resources we anticipate that great day, when Jesus fully assumes his throne and speaks these words to us:
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we [do these things]?”
[And] “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)
And just like that, God takes our meager hospitable offerings–
–a cup of water here, a bill paid there, a bowl of soup proffered with a kind word–and transforms them into beautiful gifts fit for a King.