In the busyness and blur of my wedding day, apart from my husband’s ugly one-time mustache, there is one thing I remember so clearly. It was from the sermon that was preached at the service. The preacher spoke about making a home and about hospitality. That’s the point that has stuck with me all these years and it is something I’ve been thinking about constantly these days.
Whether it’s an unannounced surprise visitor or a scheduled appointment for a meal, a guest is always a little extra work. Along with the cheerful greeting, and happy chit-chat comes the need to have a hot meal on the table and extra dishes and laundry. Basically, a little bit of inconvenience. While hospitality is ingrained in us as Indian girls, and we are taught to smile and go about our tasks as gracious hosts, what happens to us when we have to start living hospitality as our lifestyle? This is a question that I have wrestled with.
In a recent article on The Gospel Coalition website author Jen Wilkin brilliantly explains why hospitality beats entertaining. Reading Jen’s words I realised that we have been taught to entertain our guests flawlessly, but what the Bible talks about is totally different. Paul commands in Romans 12:13 “ . . . Practice hospitality” and 1 Peter 4:9 says “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Hebrews 13:2 reminds us again, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it”.
Now mind you, entertaining and showing hospitality can appear quite similar, but in their key points, they are worlds apart! Do we see people as inconveniences or as made in the image of God? Do we fret about the carpet or are we thrilled about a new mom who made it to the prayer group with her toddler? Perhaps an effective way to demonstrate God’s love and exemplify Christlike values is to welcome guests home.
The book of 3 John talks about this kind of hospitality. It contrasts between Gaius and Diotrephes, two men familiar to John. Gaius was known for his reputation of friendship, generosity and welcoming people into his home. Diotrephes, was a self proclaimed leader who did not reflect God’s values and and was even unwelcoming toward John. As I was studying this book, for the most part I thought that I was like Giaus, generously giving to others. But then the Spirit of God convicted me and I could see parts of me that were like Diotrephes, looking out for “myself”, my “rest time” and my “things”. Honestly, that’s our culture today – one of self-obsession.
Hospitality doesn’t mind when your guest shows up at the Indian Stretchable Time. It doesn’t mind when your guest throws your prized Ikea fork in the trash thinking it was a disposable fork. It doesn’t mind that the bedsheets and pillow covers are slightly mismatched. It is happy to host the cook and her daughter at the same table when the family eats. Hospitality is glad to chat over just tea or coffee or plain dal, rice and kebabs. Hospitality even says, “Wow you’ve shown up early for the book study, can you finish making this upma that I had started so I can go shower?” It is allowing people into your weakness and weariness, where genuine care can emerge.
For the most part, hospitality is what people are longing for. The college student who comes for a sleepover is not judging you based on your fancy cutlery. He/she is just happy to be home with you. And if they wake up to your regular worship music playing on your iPad, and see pancakes on the table, or just eat scrambled eggs or idli for breakfast with you, they are absolutely fine with it.
We have lived under the high standard of entertaining for far too long. But the hospitality that the Bible talks about is full of grace, to the one who extends it and to the one who receives it.
While I was growing up in Chennai I saw my mum have an open home. Anyone could walk in at any time and my mum was always available for them. She always served them and refreshed them with whatever was available in the house. It didn’t matter who the person was, she served them all with the same joy and reflected the same love that Christ reflected. My mum taught me by example and has been a great role model for me when it comes to hospitality and opening up my home.
My house is not the cleanest by the farthest stretch of your imagination. My cutlery is not the fanciest and my bedsheets and pillow covers don’t match. Oh there is still plenty of work to do in that area. But my hope is that I’ll always continue to have an open home, for anyone who walks in. That I will refresh others the way Christ refreshes me every time. That I will serve as Christ has served us.
And that is my encouragement for you today. Don’t be bogged down by the weight of entertaining others. Instead just try opening your home, your schedule, your life . . . you might just come across an angel!
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