No series on women and the home would be complete without a section devoted to hospitality. I remember hearing a good deal on the subject when I was growing up; maybe it was a trend at the time. I used to put together elaborate tea parties for my sisters, and pore over beautifully-illustrated books about etiquette and making the home a welcoming place (always with references to neatly plumped pillows and tea trays with fresh-picked flowers). Fancy, thoughtful touches like these can be such a treat, an act of service by someone with a gift for it. I still love putting together theme parties for little girls (especially at Purim), but I think somewhere along the way I realized that in the context of hospitality, the rules and frills all make me miss the point.
Now we find ourselves in a post-pandemic era of isolation and fear. Depression and anxiety can make the work of hospitality seem like too great a burden to bear, especially if we believe there are rules and everything must be clean and pretty and perfect. We have Martha Stewart in the back of our minds, hostess extraordinaire, who at the drop of a hat can host thirty friends and whip out a cake she just happened to have in the pantry.
I got curious about why this happens. Why does hospitality feel like such a burden? Why do we have the self-proclaimed introvert never-hosters on the one hand and the hospitality queens on the other? Why is the topic such a buzzword and yet such a bust? For the answer, I searched in my Bible for writings on hospitality.
“Share what you have with God’s people, and practice hospitality.”
— Romans 12:13
When I looked up the word used for hospitality in Romans 12:13, the pieces began to fall into place. In the original language, it means “love of strangers.” If we take a step back and look at this phrase as a concept, it casts things in a new and fascinating light. Could it be that the hospitality the church was meant to show was one of eschewing cliques and offering an open door to the unwanted? The church met in homes, and was instructed not to show favoritism, as we see in other scriptures. In addition, it seems that in this letter the Romans were being instructed to keep welcoming those who were different, strange, or “other.”
Nowadays we have a bit of a different culture surrounding hospitality than was reality in Biblical times (most people want you to call or text before dropping in, for example). But a common theme in the writings to the early church is telling them to be more open to the people around them in their cities. What a beautiful picture this gives us of how the love and grace of God is shown in our Christian life. The hospitality of the church is in its welcoming spirit; not forming clubs of people who all agree on current hot-button topics or style of dress, but believers who will receive with joy any outlier into their midst.
As I dwell on this meaning, it seems that this concept of loving the stranger is central to our identity as the church; a physical manifestation of a spiritual concept. As gentiles (“Greeks” is also frequently used, meaning not-sons-of-Abraham), we have been adopted into the family of God, given an inheritance as sons, grafted on to the tree. God has opened his heart to those who were previously not included, we are all made “clean.”
“Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you made me your guest, I needed clothes and you provided them, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:34-36)
If our physical actions set into motion spiritual concepts, then welcoming a stranger is a holy deed. And this doesn’t have any rules attached to it. You don’t have to host your entire small group in your tiny apartment. You don’t have to meet some magic number of invitations for dinner. And it especially doesn’t have to be perfect, or themed, or boasting a homemade cake or flowers in vases. When the realization of this grace God has shown us permeates our hearts, I imagine many acts of hospitality will come more naturally. As we welcome God in to dwell with us, we will become more willing to dwell with others, and the stranger becomes a neighbor who we love just because they’re his precious child.
Let’s release our need to perform and impress — let’s be willing to sit with others who are different from us, listen and share. Let’s love strangers and take each opportunity to welcome them into our midst. You’re free of all the rules and expectations. Follow the spirit as he teaches you how to love as you have been loved.