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This is part of a mini-series on hospitality. Click on the ‘Hospitality’ tab at the top of the page to read the other posts. If you’re encouraged or challenged by it, please consider sharing it with someone you think would appreciate it too. Thank you!
So we’ve looked at the reasons to take hospitality seriously. But many of us run from the notion of hospitality because we have the wrong idea of what it actually is. We think that because we can’t cook (or don’t like to), because we don’t have a spare room, because our furniture is all hand-me-downs and things-that-don’t-match, because our kids are really noisy, because Nothing Ever Gets Cleaned, because it’s not actually my house, then hospitality just isn’t for us. There are other people called to do this, but not us.
I love the story of Mary and Martha. Primarily, I love it because each time I read it, it slaps me round the face like a block of ice. We have these two sisters, going about their daily business, and then Jesus calls in. Of all the guests! And just at the wrong time too. The bread hasn’t been baked, the kitchen floor’s a mess, the washing up is stacked high, and piles of clothes cover all the seats. It’s on the tip of Martha’s tongue to suggest that perhaps Jesus should go and see a different friend, and then call back later. No – of course, that would be rude. Well perhaps we can just keep him on the doorstep – no, that wouldn’t do at all. We are Jewish, after all – known for our hospitality. OK, well let’s just invite him in and get the place clean and tidy as soon as we can.
But that frustrating sister! Why doesn’t she help? It’s alright for her, sitting and having a nice chat, but there’s work to be done, and Muggins here appears to be flying solo. No one has detected my gritted teeth as I scrub the living daylights out of the floor, so maybe it’s time to step it up a notch. I’ll start sweeping right where they’re sitting. That’ll do it. Mary’s got to offer some help now.
Er…excuse me? Come and sit? With a filthy house and a to-do list as long as my arm? You’re telling me to just sit? …
I am Martha. I mean – not the housework bit, obviously. (Have you seen my home?) But I am task-driven, prone to losing focus of what’s important. The point usually made by this story is how important Jesus is, that spending time with him should be central to our lives. But there’s an equally salient point – and that is that hospitality is not about everything being perfect.
I’ve noticed that, outside the church, the word ‘hospitality’ is rarely used in a domestic context. You might hear it in a phrase like ‘the hospitality industry’, denoting commercial hospitality which is profit-making, but otherwise the more common word to use when having people over is ‘entertaining’. And that word says it all: when someone comes over, you’re an entertainer, putting on a show, trying to make things as good as they possibly can be. This word has infiltrated our minds so much that considering Biblical hospitality requires a major mind-shift. Biblical hospitality is not about entertaining others to make ourselves/our home/our cooking look good – in fact, it’s about the direct opposite: it’s about being vulnerable enough to share our weaknesses with others.
Courtesy of the darling CofE, we get to live in a house much larger than any we’ve ever inhabited before. So it’s really been no surprise to us that, since moving here, God has asked more of our hospitality than we’ve ever given before. But He’s asked it at a time when our home has been the messiest and dirtiest it’s ever been, when we’re the busiest and most exhausted we’ve ever been. Yep, just when our life becomes more manic with the arrival of two kids, God decides now would be an excellent time to play open house. Thanks, God.
When someone enters our home, they find us as we are: in the middle of bathtime, running around catching up with jobs, baking cakes for toddler groups, yelling at the kids – with all the dust, crumbs and pen-on-the-carpet that goes with that. Occasionally (very), we are an oasis of calm: kids in bed, downstairs tidied, dust hidden with cards and photo frames. But this doesn’t last long. Deception is not an option when you’re opening your home.
The point is that what hospitality isn’t is entertaining. It’s not about showing off. It’s not about a perfect home that makes others envious.
But it is about sharing our lives with each other. It’s about welcoming someone into our mess, so that they can feel reassured about their own. It’s about forging those deep friendships which only happen when we take off our masks – masks which are easy to wear when out and about, but trickier to uphold in our own homes, where real life is lived and real mistakes are made.
I also need to point out that hospitality isn’t just about housing the homeless either. When Al and I had conversations about being hospitable a few years ago, I would feel a little despondent over how difficult it seemed to be to meet actual need through hospitality – homeless people weren’t knocking on our door, drug addicts weren’t coming over for a meal – just our nice, middle-class friends and acquaintances, who all seemed to be doing very well, thank you. I will expand more on this in a future post, but for now I want to say that what I’ve been learning over the last few years is how hospitality is always needed, however sorted your life is. A student may be from a fairly affluent background, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not craving family, a decent meal, or a comfy sofa, whilst away from home. A friend may have a happy home and work life, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t need a listening ear, an encouragement in her faith, or a rest from cooking.
Martha wasn’t keen to forget the state of her house. Mary was. She had it right – to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen. We may not be opening our home to Jesus (although Matthew 25 tells us that when we give to those in need, it’s as if we’re doing it for Jesus), but anyone who steps through the front door has a story to tell, advice to give, problems to share, needs to pray for. We will learn immeasurably by sitting at the feet of our guests, and simply listening. And we may never know what they gain from spending some time in our homes. Perhaps they will feel immeasurably loved and valued for the first time in a while, perhaps immeasurably needed where they’ve experienced rejection in the past, perhaps immeasurably drawn towards a Saviour who took the initiative in opening His kingdom to us.
Dare we believe that our hospitality might make this much impact? Or will we keep our tiny minds fixated on the state of our homes?
How do you view hospitality?
Do you find hospitality an effort or a joy?