How important is hospitality to you?
Etymologically, the notion of hospitality involves a mutual, reciprocal relationship: the Latin word hospitem is the word for a guest or stranger, a visitor or sojourner; it is also the source of our word host, the person who receives a guest or visitor. (In French, the word hôte can mean both guest and host.) Such reciprocity of relationship in the context of our relationship with God may well give us pause: what can we offer to God? Isn’t God the one who does the giving, as the host, while we are mere guests?
Consider the story of the woman of Shunem in 2 Kings, a woman of influence who opens her table and her home to the prophet Elisha as he passes through her land. Elisha naturally would like to thank the woman for her hospitality: Can something be done for her?, he asks his servant Gehazi. Ultimately, the woman will bear a baby son; her generous hospitality to Elisha is thus mutually beneficial – each is, in a sense, both host and guest, enjoying the fruits of kindness and faithfulness in relationship.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus also insists on the mutuality of relationship, albeit in a way that might at first seem off-putting. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, he says. Our gift to God is to put God first, before all else – to be faithful to the covenant relationship God offers, a life of kindness and faithfulness the psalmist describes in Psalm 89. God’s most generous gift to us will become clear to the disciples after Jesus’ death: he died to sin once and for all, Paul tells the Romans. Taking our sins to the cross, Jesus offered us the greatest possible gift: that of his life. Moreover, Jesus knows that if our relationship with God is our first priority, we can love others better, for to embrace God’s love is to be transformed by it; to embrace an existence in which God, Jesus, is our first love is to live for God in Christ Jesus, enjoying newness of life as we wait for the fullness of perfect union with him. In the meantime, we are called to offer hospitality – to receive all, from prophets and the righteous to the little ones in Christ, to be gift to others as we recognize the gift others are in our own lives. As with God, so with us: let us live lives of generous hospitality, singing the goodness of the Lord in all we say, living for God in all we do.
Image source: Wordle