I talked a few days ago about how the concept of hospitality brings up images of dinner parties in today’s culture. But in the Bible, hospitality didn’t refer to hosting with style. In fact, Christians were admonished for only inviting friends over to dinner. Luke 14:12-14 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
And yet, we are afraid of having even our friends over. We stay closed off in our little houses, a city full of fortresses, afraid to share life with each other.
I was asking the youth I work with at church how she would define hospitality, and her answer floored me. “Treat strangers as if you knew them already.”
Now maybe that is not as revolutionary for you as it is for me, but it shook me up. For you see, I have a hard time getting to know people. It takes a lot for someone to break through my shell. I frequently get described as ‘intimidating’. And I hate this about myself. No matter how hard I try to let others in, I have this inner switch that I can’t seem to figure out how to flip until I feel comfortable around someone.
How does this keep me from showing hospitality to others? How does it hinder me from sharing life with them? Learning and benefitting from them, and vice versa?
How does one make friends? How do you teach yourself to treat strangers as if you already knew them?
I think our society is paralyzed by fear… we view all people we don’t know (especially if they are of a different race or socioeconomic status) with suspicion. We glance around nervously in poorly lit parking lots. We stay in our familiar side of town. We don’t initiate with strangers, and when strangers approach us, we focus on only how to disengage from conversation.
This is not without good reason. Crime statistics are up. We hear over and over about how people are praying on the weak, the vulnerable, the foolish. But what is this doing to our ministry?
How can we treat strangers as if we already knew them as a part of our daily existence? How can we resurrect the concept of Christian hospitality?