How Hospitality Humanizes All of Us
Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
(For the full text, read: Matthew 22:1-14)
One of the things that we have in common with our homeless neighbors is our common need to experience hospitality and to offer hospitality. None of us thrives unless we are experiencing it. Simultaneously, we are also at our best when we are in the position to offer hospitality. Both the giving and the receiving of hospitality humanize us. It is actually part of the way that we image God.
In Luke 14, Jesus uses hospitality and welcome as metaphors for the gospel. The king has his servants go out to alleys, backstreets, and forgotten places to gather people to a wedding banquet to experience his bounty. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection the way is opened for us to experience God as our dwelling place and to know his welcome and embrace.
Hospitality is the opening of our homes, and, more importantly, our selves to others so they feel welcomed, cared for, and nurtured. In this practice we offer to others a sense of their worth and value, a sense of being loved not because of what they have to offer, but simply because they inherently matter. When we make room for others and offer them welcome and warmth, they rediscover their truest selves.
God offers us welcome and embrace not because we are particularly loveable (often we are quite the opposite of that) but simply because we are loved. We are to follow suit. While the practice of hospitality will involve friends and family, it casts its eye specifically toward the marginalized. Literally it is the love of strangers or showing kindness to strangers. Christine Pohl, in her book Making Room, writes, “Strangers are people without a place, disconnected from life-giving relationships and networks.”
Looking our homeless neighbors in the eyes and greeting them warmly, even when we choose not to offer them money, is a hospitable act—and one way of recognizing their dignity and worth. Supporting and serving at shelters and missions that care for the homeless provides outlets for us to deepen the practice of hospitality. Participating in something like HFNY’s annual Don’t Walk By outreach offers an opportunity to have conversations with our homeless neighbors, get to know their stories, and pray for them.
As the writer to the Hebrews urges us, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (13:2).
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Jeff White is the assistant pastor at Redeemer Downtown. He and his wife, Rebecca, have been married since 1986 and have three children: Kirsten, Corina and Andrew.