Where does your mind take you when you encounter the word “hospitality”? What images spring to mind? Entertaining? Greeting people at the door of the church? Henri Nouwen observed that, for most of us, hospitality “conjures up images of tea parties, conversation, and a general atmosphere of coziness.” (Reaching Out: Three Dimensions of the Spiritual Life)
The scope of Biblical hospitality, however, has much more breadth and depth. The people of Israel regarded hospitality to the stranger as being a responsibility entrusted to them by God. The hospitality of a home was sacred, inviolable, and expected; to break the sacred trust of hospitality was considered an almost unforgivable sin in the sight of God.
In his letter to Rome, Paul exhorts believers to “practice hospitality”, to “welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you”. It is an invitation echoed by the writer of Hebrews: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Clearly, there is something more to hospitality than tea parties, Sunday morning hellos, conversation, and coziness. I would like to suggest that, in 2024, we must consider the challenge of Biblical hospitality, God’s sacred trust, on a much, much, larger scale.
By mid-2023, the number of forcibly displaced persons worldwide exceeded 110 million people, 40% of whom are under the age of 18, with over 36.4 million refugees. In Canada, one of the world’s wealthiest countries, Stat Canada estimates that in 2023, 235,000 people experienced “the many different types of homelessness.” “Affordable housing” is fast becoming an oxymoron, with many forced to pay a disproportionate amount of their earnings on shelter.
Global inhospitality is pervasive. How can human beings, created in the very image of God, even imagine reaching their God-given potential when there is no welcome for them, where there is no country or community or home where they can belong, and rest, where there is no safe place?
Answers to these questions can seem to be beyond even the wisdom of Solomon. Yet still the Biblical challenge looks us unwaveringly in the eye. Let us offer our most fervent prayers, and, in the places we live and move and having our being, let us do what we can to build hospitable communities, in which all are welcomed, and have a place to call home.
Romans 12:13 – Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality
Author: Rev. Lynn Mitchell; WICC Board Member
World Day of Prayer ecumenical services give us an opportunity to be a building block for hospitable communities – gathering Christians from all denominations for prayer and action. Through the Women’s Inter-Church Council of Canada, resources for the World Day of Prayer 2024 service – “I beg you … bear with one another in love” are now available.