May 17, 2019
Titus 1:8 (NLT)
Rather, he must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life.
It sounds so pleasant, but “he must enjoy having guests in his home” is not a call for more dinner parties. In fact, the rules of Middle Eastern hospitality that run through the Bible make this a hard statement.
Consider the parable Jesus tells in Luke 11. He’s teaching about prayer, but the story is also a window into biblical hospitality. The scene opens with a man who has some unexpected guests show up in the middle of the night. He has no bread (the staple food item) to feed them, so he goes over to a friends house to ask for some.
Now, this is not the same as running next door to borrow a cup of sugar. One, it’s the middle of the night, and in those days the friend would be sleeping on the floor right next to the rest of his family. Two, only enough bread for the day was baked fresh very early in the morning. So to give some bread would have been either a hassle to make or robbed him of whatever leftovers he had.
But here’s the deal: There were strict codes of hospitality in the biblical Middle East that obligated a host to provide any guest with food as a welcome. Not because of good manners, but because the table for meals was considered a type of altar, and to break bread with a visitor literally meant you are important to me and you are now a sacred part of our family.
And it was a great social shame to not have or give bread to a guest, so the story goes on: The friend says to go away because it’s the middle of the night and his family is asleep; he’s not going to help him. But then Jesus says, “But I tell you this – though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need in order to avoid shame” (Luke 11:8).
Pete Grieg, author and founder of 24-7 Prayer makes the point better than me: “People tell me they have the gift of hospitality by which I think they mean that they like dinner parties. They have (or aspire to have) a beautiful home with an underused spare room, in which they enjoy entertaining exotic, interesting, appreciative guests who confirm just how lovely their home is.
“This is not the gift of hospitality. This is the gift of a box of chocolates. Biblical hospitality… is a really bad lifestyle choice. True hospitality allows for interruption, goes the second mile and above all it is present to people… It can often hurt our schedules, our emotions, our bank accounts and, yes, it can even mess up our homes.”
Remember, yesterday we saw Paul giving instructions for Titus to find elders (pastors) for churches, and it is this kind of hard hospitality he lists as their first job description. But it’s not surprising, because two chapters later in Luke’s gospel Jesus is eating at someone’s house, and Luke writes: Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you” (Luke 14:12-14).
I mean, it’s really all over the Gospels! Matthew 9:10-11 tells the story of Jesus at another meal: Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. 11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
Pop application quiz: Remember two minutes ago when you read that to eat with someone meant you are important to me and you are now a sacred part of our family? That’s why Jesus eats with scum, and where we we find our hospitality calling.
I love Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message of Jesus’ response: “I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”
Can you imagine if that was the first line of a pastor’s job description, or the church’s mission statement, or at least the hospitality committee’s charge?
It should be, because everything I just described in today’s post is what happens at the table of Holy Communion. Jesus welcomes us, sinners and scum, then calls us to go and do the same. The Eucharistic life is holy and hard hospitality, but as we learned two days ago, we can do hard things.
Jesus, you welcome me, a sinner, to your Holy Communion table of grace. Help me give that same hospitality to everyone I meet. Amen.
Where is your table altar of hospitality these days?
For the awakening,