In November’s exclusive column for The Scoop, Scott Guyatt contemplates the benefits to churches if they rethink their approach to hospitality in the spirit of Jesus’ practices.
We talk a lot, in the church, about hospitality. We talk about the critical importance of welcoming the stranger; about generosity, grace and what it means to share our space with the other.
And so we should. We (rightly) understand hospitality as mission, as a primary way in which we can join with God’s mission for the world.
There are two aspects of hospitality however, that we could perhaps think about a little more, and they’re arguably the more important ways in which Jesus practices hospitality.
Firstly rather than at his own place, Jesus practises hospitality in the public space. Wherever he is, he makes people feel welcome and at ease. Think of the woman at the well (John 4:1–42), the kids who come to see what’s going on (Matthew 19:13–14), putting on a feed for a multitude who come to hear his stories (John 6:1–15), or cooks up a barbecue breakfast for the disciples on the beach (John 21:1–14). Jesus practices hospitality in public places.
Public space provides something critical that our own space can’t always provide: neutral ground. We no longer gather around my table in my dining room, but our picnic blanket in our park. We no longer eat my food that I have provided, but our food we share, or food prepared for us by a third party in a café or restaurant. In a public space we give up some of the power of being host, and it changes the dynamic of the encounter significantly.
Next time you offer hospitality, think about doing so in a public place.
Secondly (and I think more importantly) Jesus practises what we might describe as “reverse hospitality”. In the Gospel stories Jesus is far more often seen in the role of guest than he is as host.
Jesus goes to other people’s places and spaces. He accepts invitations to parties (John 2:1–11), shares lunch with tax collectors (Mark 2:15–17), hangs out in houses and lounge rooms (Luke 10:38-43). He accepts hospitality where it is offered, and encourages his disciples to do the same (Luke 9:1–6, 10:1–12).
Jesus accepts invitations that others think he should decline, eating with people others think he should deny. He even invites himself on occasion, without waiting for the invitation to be offered.
And to be honest, Jesus doesn’t always behave properly as guest. He sometimes becomes host, he sometimes transforms the gathering, sometimes transforms the host.
Jesus is incarnational in the very way in which he lives his life―going and being among those to whom he is called.
Giving ourselves as guest is vital. It validates the other, affirming that they are important, worthy and appreciated. It puts us in a place of vulnerability, helping open us to the perspectives, values and experiences (yes, and food!) of our neighbours. It demonstrates what it means to be incarnational, to be in the neighbourhood within which God is at work and to be people of peace in many places other than our own.
Hospitality in our own space is important – no question. But there’s something even more powerful about being willing to go and be in public spaces, or in other people’s places.
What if every church demonstrated a radical understanding of biblical hospitality?