I love having people over to my house. I love the process of cleaning, preparing, baking and cooking, planning, and welcoming people into my home. I organize the furniture in my home to be comfortable and conducive for conversations, as to intentionally make hospitality a part of my life. In this way, I seek to love others with Christ’s love (see 1 Peter 4:8-10).
My favorite place to show hospitality was in my little apartment on the campus of a university in East Asia where I lived and worked as an English teacher. Over the course of a semester, I would have my students over to bake cookies, play Uno and experience what it was like to be in the home of an American. I loved being the first foreign home that my students and friends visited.
However, being on the receiving end of hospitality is not always easy for me. I believe love should be shown through actions, but being the one to show up was not my preferred posture. However, reversing roles and walking through the doors of a local friend’s apartment in 2019 taught me a lesson about the importance of both giving and receiving hospitality as a way to know more about the kingdom of heaven.
It started with a simple invitation from my closest local friend. She asked if I would like to come spend the New Year holiday with her family and stay for at least a week. My instinct was to answer, “Yes! What an honor! What an experience! I will be there!”
As the date for departure grew closer and the holiday approached, the reality of what I was about to experience crept into my mind. I would stay at the house with our friends, parents, and relatives who did not speak English. I had been in East Asia for five years, but my grasp of the local language was strongest when discussing food, coffee, my ability to manage chopsticks, or if I had a boyfriend. How would I hold my own for seven days when I inevitably ran out of vocabulary and topics? How long can you discuss the merits of spicy noodles?
Mostly, I did not want to feel rude or dumb. While I had been living in Asia for some time, I still did not know the intricate customs and traditions that came with spending the biggest holiday of the year in the intimate setting of a family home. There would be several generations gathered together to spend time with each other, and here I was, unable to communicate well or intuitively contribute as a fun member of the celebration. Should I take all the food they are offering me? Can I say “no” to the weird scorpion thing with the claws? If I say “yes,” how do I eat it? Will I offend someone? Will I be embarrassed?
Instead of judgment and ridicule toward my lack of understanding and ease, I was met with welcome and understanding. The family went out of their way to make me feel at home in the ways that they would most feel at home: with abundant food, consistent attention to my perceived needs, and unwavering affirmation that they understood I was doing the best I could.
This is how I imagine Jesus sees us. Oftentimes, our understanding is lacking; we reject the good gifts he offers, or we respond poorly because we do not know what to do. But Jesus came to us, and instead of leaving, he continues to meet us where we are. When I do not understand what is happening, he meets me with love and patience. When I mess up or make a mistake, he forgives and redeems me. In experiencing the hospitality of my friend’s family, I also experienced the hospitality of the kingdom, where we come as we are and God knows us. We do not need perfect knowledge to be known. It will not even always feel comfortable. But hospitality modeled after Jesus’s example allows us space to rest, be filled, be known, and then go forth and do likewise.
While we do not have examples of Jesus hosting people in his home, lavishly preparing meals or allowing them to sleep on his couch for weeks (though he did seem to get invited over to other people’s houses often! See Matthew 17:25; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 10:25-42, and 19:1-10 for examples.), there is a story in Luke’s Gospel that demonstrates the hospitality of Jesus. In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus was invited over to a religious leader’s home for a meal. Again, this seemed to happen quite often for Jesus. I imagine that people loved to have Jesus over, not because they anticipated he would turn their water into wine, but because the love of Jesus was tangible in whatever space he occupied. While he was there, a woman entered and anointed, kissed, wept on, and even used her hair to dry off his feet.
I am not an expert on Jewish, Greek, or Roman culture at the time, and I do not know the norms of uninvited guests entering a room and washing people’s feet with oil. I am, however, an expert at identifying uncomfortable cultural moments, and this one has all the signs of being awkward for everyone in the room. And it did upset the host, as he was forced to face discomfort in his own home at a meal he was probably looking forward to. I love how Jesus responded to this moment. When the host expressed his frustration, Jesus calmly told him a parable to gently explain why he was comfortable with this slight disruption. To the woman, he expressed love and acceptance of her actions, and while they were not culturally accepted, they were received and blessed by Jesus. Jesus showed hospitality to the woman because he was unafraid of discomfort, but determined to make every space he occupied a place of acceptance and peace.
When we are in a place to accept hospitality, even when it is potentially uncomfortable due to cultural differences and expectations, we can experience acceptance and grace that mirrors the kingdom of heaven. Just like the generous hospitality of Jesus, my friends accepted me into their home even though I disrupted the norms, provided more work and inconvenience, and had nothing to give them in return that would have equally demonstrated welcome.
First Peter 4 says,
“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.”1 Peter 4:8-10 NLT
We all have a chance to both show and receive hospitality as a way to express and experience the love of Christ. When we are on either side of hospitality, may we be a people who seek to use our gifts and blessings to welcome, build up and encourage, just as Jesus modeled.
Photo credit: Emilee Carpenter
Carrie is an ESL teacher who works with students and teachers from all over the world from her home in Cincinnati, OH. Carrie loves meeting new people, learning languages and making people laugh, preferably at the same time. Her hobbies include reading, drinking fun coffee, ballet, rock climbing and cooking, preferably not all at the same time.