Hospitality is a way of showing friendliness, and what better way than to break bread together? But hospitality can be draining and stressful. Take a look at our friend Martha. She was entertaining the Lord Himself at her house, and she let the stress of all the preparations cause her to act foolishly. She needed a little help in the kitchen, and her annoyance at her sister is recorded for all time right there in the gospel of Luke (10:39-42) where the Lord gently but pointedly corrected her.
I have a lot of affection for Martha. Don’t you?Â Had I been in her shoes, with my sister hanging out in the living room while I was madly trying to put on a fabulous feast for who knows how many, my name would be right there in Luke instead of hers. I think I know how she felt, though I am still surprised that she had the nerve to go ask Jesus to do something about it. I think I would have just stewed and scowled and been grumpy in the kitchen, snippy and chilly at everyone until I got my heart right.
For some reason, hospitality is good for us. Elders (bishops) are to lead the way in it (1 Timothy 3:2) and Peter gives a broader command to all Christians toÂ “use hospitality one to another without grudging” (I Peter 4:9). He tells us that hospitality is going to be hard for us, so he gives us a heads up warning to do it without griping.
Why is hospitality so good for us? And if it is so good, why is it so perilously easy to stumble into sin over it? I haven’t figured this all out yet, but I have a couple of thoughts so far.
I believe, first of all, that hospitality is good for us because it is hands-on, real-life,Â experiential Christianity. When you are a host or hostess, you are assuming a role of servant. You are waiting on people, and it is a load of work. Just in case you have forgotten how much work it is, consider this: First you plan a menu and clean the house. You set the table, shop for the groceries, do the cooking, pour the wine, serve the meal, look after everyone before, during, and after the meal, and then you clean up all the mess. And meanwhile, as you are doing all the above things, you are making conversation and getting to know your guests better. So what’s the big deal with that, I ask?
I think that the answer is that hospitality requires self-sacrifice, and we all need lots of practice with that. Self-sacrifice does not come naturally to us. It must be a work of grace or it will result in a spectacular belly flop. If it did not require so much, we would not be tempted to grumble about it. So God wants us doing it a lot so that we will get good at living for others and quit fussing about the work and the mess involved. In other words, hospitality is a means God can use to make us more like Him and less like us.
When you invite strangers, friends, or family to dinner, you are bestowing on them. You are opening up your life and your home and giving them something of yourselves. The temptation comes when you want to be appreciated and don’t think you are, when you think everyone has forgotten what it cost you to put the food on the table.Â I think Jesus wants us to forget about ourselves and think about others as we practiceÂ hospitality. And this goes against the grain. That’s why we are tempted to get grumbly.
Our Lord’s response to Martha was kind and gentle. He was unwilling to jump on Mary. Mary was not in the wrong. Maybe if Martha had sweetly asked her sister to help, the story never would have made it into the Gospel story. She was missing the self-sacrifice part and was thinking too much about what it was costing her to serve. She was keeping score. In other words, she was thinking about Martha and not about her guests.
Hospitality is an important way in which we can imitate Christ. Feeding others is a potent way of becoming more like Jesus.Â We need more than just a little help in the kitchen. We need grace! Jesus invites us to sit down with Him at His table and feast on Him. He girded Himself and washed the disciples’ feet. He served. He died.Â He is the Hospitable One.