Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. [1 Peter 4:9 (NLT)]
Rahab offered a bed and protection to Israelite spies, the Shunammite woman provided a room for the prophet Elisha, and the widow of Zarephath gave her last morsel of food to Elijah. When they brought strangers into their homes, both Abraham and Lot welcomed angels in disguise. Gideon and Manoah fed an angel of the Lord and both Zacchaeus and Martha welcomed Jesus as their dinner guest. In fact, Jesus, his disciples, and the early Christian evangelists all depended on the hospitality of others as they travelled from town to town. The hospitality given them had little to do with gourmet food or well-appointed rooms. Rather, their hosts gladly opened both hearts and hands to their guests and freely shared what little they had with them. Simon the Pharisee, mentioned in yesterday’s meditation, probably had a nicer home, better food and finer wine than any of the people I’ve mentioned; while he may have entertained Jesus, he was anything but hospitable.
This distinction between hospitality and entertaining reminds me of a family friend whose Christmas dinner always consisted of gathering loved ones and eating fried chicken and the trimmings (courtesy of the Kentucky Colonel), on paper plates with plastic utensils. Since my idea of a holiday meal consisted of crystal goblets, fine china, sterling silver, linen tablecloths, an elaborate tablescape and making everything from scratch, I was shocked. That, however, was many years ago. Since that time, much older and far wiser, I have come to understand the important difference between entertaining and hospitality.
Understandably, for many people the thought of entertaining is terrifying. For a Christian, however, being hospitable should be second nature. Entertaining has little to do with hospitality. One has to do with décor, cuisine, attire, atmosphere, and possessions while the other has to do with love, respect, sharing, communication, refreshment, and comfort. One is meant to impress and the other is meant to bless. Like Jesus at the Pharisee’s, we can be entertained lavishly and never feel welcome or, like Elijah at the widow’s, we can be given the smallest morsel from a welcoming host and know faith. Family, friends and even strangers at our tables are far more important than whatever is put on their plates or the kind of plates that are used. Anything prepared and shared with love is a worthy gift for all who enter our homes. If an angel comes to the door, we don’t want to turn him or her away just because the house isn’t tidy or we don’t have the makings of a gourmet meal. After all, there’s always the Colonel with his barrel of chicken!
Always assume your guest is tired, cold, and hungry, and act accordingly. [Native American Proverb]