So what is so virtuous about hospitality? Isn’t it just good manners to be friendly and play nice with others? Shouldn’t that be a normal part of a civil society? The kind of hospitality that we are called to practice goes deeper than that and is rooted in ancient cultures.
Here’s a piece of advice that was being passed around to the early churches.
Most of us have some personal memory or have lived vicariously through an ideal of what hospitality is. Maybe it was the annual family reunion where you got to see your kinfolk, or having dinner at your Nana’s house. You remember the positive and warm feelings of others who showed a genuine interest in you, shared laughs and stories and Auntie Jane’s hash brown casserole. Or, if you had no personal reference point in your own relations, you knew a friend that included you in their gatherings or you learned about it from sitcoms. Why do we soften and smile when we dream about hospitality?
The early church found many people coming together in unusual circumstances. The persecutions drove some to run away and find a new life in another city. Some families experienced division as Christ followers were often misunderstood and maligned by both religious and political opinion. Into the early churches there came strays, strangers and surprises.
Keep on, loving one another as brothers and sisters. The early church depended on courageous optimism to keep it from sinking into isolation and fear. The old familiar model of family can also be practiced here in our newly adopted family. Do you remember being the new person? Do you remember how you were included and cared for as a stranger? Hospitality must always turn toward the stranger in our midst.
For the ancients who lived day in and day out often within the family unit and with the village neighbours, hospitality had another value that was necessary to stay alive.
The environment of the desert and arid land in most of the Middle East is harsh. For a traveler, access to water and food was a matter of life and death. Most settlements were built near available water or wells. The traveler needed to have access to the water. Yet, it was also important for the settled community to have protection. As a result, strict codes of conduct developed to govern such encounters. These conventions of hospitality also applied equally to the desert dwellers who lived in tents as they followed the grazing herds (today called Bedouins). They were obligated to provide for travelers that stopped at their tents, and under these customs could expect some protection from hostile actions from the "stranger." The host was obliged to provide the traveler with food, water, and shelter.
I do not know if you are aware of this, but it can be a desert out there in the middle of a crowded city. For some, friendship and inclusion is as rare and precious as an ancient wilderness well. Jesus said,
I hope you don’t mind that I quoted from the Kevin Rogers version. I know lots of people who drink more coffee than water.