Captured missionary to cannibals, “At least you get a taste of religion.” The Swahili in Africa have a proverb – Treat your guest as a guest for two days; on the third day give him a hoe. My father-in-law would always quote Benjamin Franklin when we would come to visit. “Both fish and company smell bad after three days.” I wouldn’t have taken that to heart so much if it hadn’t been for the fact he would quote it when we first arrived. A sign seen at the entrance of an English castle open to the public: It is the duty of the host to make his guests feel at home. It is the duty of the guests to remember that they are not.
Hospitality was specifically commanded by God. It was to be characteristic of all believers, especially spiritual leaders. Jesus emphasized the importance of hospitality by answering the question who should inherit the kingdom: “I was a stranger and you took Me in”. In biblical times it was believed to be a sacred duty to receive, feed, lodge, and protect any traveler who might stop at one’s door. The stranger was treated as a guest, and men who had thus eaten together were bound to each other by the strongest ties of friendship, which descended to their heirs and was confirmed by mutual presents. Hospitality was a religious duty for all who lived around the Sea, who were enjoined by the law of Moses. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God. (Lev 19:34) The present practice of the Arabs is still similar to ancient Hebrew hospitality. Hospitality in Greek means “lover of strangers.”
The clergyman felt that their church was a bit stuffy and could use a bit of friendliness. And one of the things that impressed him most was the practice of everyone turning around and shaking hands with, and greeting, the other worshipers seated nearby. So, one Sunday he announced that the following Sunday they were going to initiate this custom. At the close of this same service a man turned around to the lady behind and said “Good morning,” and she looked at him with shock at his boldness and said, “I beg your pardon!
That friendliness business doesn’t start until next Sunday.”
There is a difference between “hospitality” and “entertaining.” Entertaining says, “I want to impress you with my home, my clever decorating, my cooking.” Hospitality, seeking to minister, says, “This home is a gift from my Master. I use it as He desires.” Hospitality aims to serve. Entertaining puts things before people. Hospitality puts people first. “No furniture, we’ll eat on the floor!”
Lyle Schaller says, “The most influential question that can be asked of a first time visitor is, ‘Would you like to come home with us for dinner?'” For those not interested in “Knocking on doors,” Schaller notes, “Just open your door.”
The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.” “No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.” But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom–both young and old–surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door. The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.” (Gen 19:1)
Now hear it from Jesus: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, `Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ (Luke 16:20)
Why is it so important to God for us to show hospitality, especially to a stranger? Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff-no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”
The stranger that comes to you, just might be God. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:2)
The 23rd Psalm concludes with a portrait of a host who prepares a table for the weary, anoints the head of the guest with oil, and shows every kindness so that the guest’s cup runs over. The psalmist sees the Lord Himself as Host; His hospitality exceeds all others. But you are the stranger, the alien in the foreign land. Even today a traditional greeting to the guests among the Bedouin people of the Middle East is “You are among your family.
Jews believed that the first thing the Messiah would do was host a Messianic banquet. In fact, the last thing Jesus did was to host a banquet — the Lord’s Supper. The Supper doesn’t seem like a banquet. There is only a crumb of bread. There is only a sip of wine. They are in our bodies for only a short time. But the memory of what we have thought and felt at the Supper lasts far, far longer. It lasts until we come again to Communion even as strangers.