What happened to Hospitality?

“In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal”  (Robert Karris, Eating your Way through Luke’s Gospel).  It would seem that there are lots of times when Jesus is entering someone’s home to eat with them.  But the irony is that I have just spent the last week or so reading about hospitality in cafes.  Has hospitality become commercialised and what does that mean?

Biblically Speaking…

There are lot’s of instructions from the Bible to be hospitable.  Some of these instructions are for all people (Rom 12:13, Heb 13:2, 1 Peter 4:9).  It is important for Christian leaders to show an example of being hospitable (1 Tim 3:2, Titus 1:8).  Widows who are to be supported are to be hospitable (1 Tim 5:10) meaning that this is not just for the rich and people who are able to do so easily.  It means we all should be aiming to express hospitality as Christians.

The surprise is that we often think hospitality is having friend over for dinner (and that’s a good thing) but it’s not quite what the Bible has in mind.  These words translated as “hospitality” are from the Greek words philonexia (lover of strangers) and xenodoechia (receiving of strangers).  In each case it is the stranger that is accepted, brought into the home and fed.  It is done in the home.

In the Biblical culture there is the principle that you offer hospitality to strangers.  There was no concept of a ‘hotel’.  This, for instance, is key to the narrative of Gensis 19.  Instructions for being hospitable to travelling missionaries is given in 3 John, etc.

But I can hear some of the more Biblically astute among you say “What about the idea of an ‘inn”?  Wasn’t the story that Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room for them at the inn?”.  Acutally that was a mistranslation.  The Greek word katalyma is probably more to do with a guest room:“Katalyma…means generally lodging, but more particularly a guest room or dinning room” (Mark 15:14; Luke 2:7; 22:11).  NIDNT Vol3, p189.  There was probably no room for them in this room because other relatives who had come for the census were already there.  There is no mention of a stable in the text, but there is some archeological evidence that the manger was actually a part of the main room of the house, which is where Jesus was probably born.  (For more on this http://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/jesus-wasnt-born-in-a-stable/)

There is a mention of an ‘inn’ and an ‘innkeeper’ in the parable of the good Samaritan.  But again closer examination of the Greek word behind this shows that it is more likley closer to our Youth hostel or a caravan park than the Four Seasons.  The fact that this is the only mention of it in the New Testament shows that this is an unsual thing.

Cultural shifts

But hospitality has been commerisialised.  Hotels were the ones to start it.  Instead of staying in someone else’s home, you could now stay in a commericalised institution and have people do the work for you.  Resturants followed.  At first these were food halls with communal tables but resturants in Paris started to include seperate tables so you did not have to eat with others.

It wasn’t long before even a meal at home was being divided up.  There has been a 33% decrease of American families eating together and of those 1/2 do so with the television on (in Bowling Alone by Robert Putman).  “Instead we get our community vicariously through soap operas.  Friends is a television program or a Facebook number, not the people with whom we eat and laugh and cry.”  (Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus).

Of course we still have a desire to commune with those around us and so over the last couple of years we have seen the rise of the “3rd place” or the “Starbuck’s Phenonemon”.  The cafe that looks like a lounge room, but isn’t.  We do the hosting by buying someone else a coffee, but really it is someone else who does the work and cleans up.

Where does that leave us?

Having people over is a hassle.  It is hard work, takes time, is messy, means being vunerable, you have to go shopping, and at times work around people’s food restrictions .  If your visitor has kids there is another world of questions about which set of discipline rules do you apply?  The parents or the hosts?  There are lots of reasons not to be hospitable to new or even people you don’t know.

But then we have been given an instrcution from God to do so…

It is an opportunity to show love in a world that has been trying to consumerise love for the last century.  It is an opportunity to embrace or receive people in a way that they may never have at other time in their lives.