I don’t know where to start!
Perhaps that’s how you feel about hospitality. So many people are lonely and in need of encouragement and care. Then there are friends, neighbors, members of your small group, newcomers to church, work colleagues and extended family members. Maybe you find yourself wondering, Who should I prioritize spending time with? Who is it I am called to show hospitality to?
If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself more naturally drawn towards people who are easy to spend time with, who don’t demand too much, and whose circumstances you can relate to. I call this comfortable hospitality. But that’s not the kind of hospitality God calls us to.
The wrong question
In Luke 10, an expert in Jewish law asks Jesus how he can gain eternal life. It sounds like a good question, but the lawyer is testing Jesus. He knows he should love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, and love his neighbor as himself—the problem is he doesn’t. So, to justify his lack of love, he asks, Who is my neighbor? Who is it I’m called to love as myself?
It’s the wrong question. The lawyer wants Jesus to tell him who he must love, and he wants an excuse for not loving others in the same way. He may as well have asked, Who do I not have to love? Who is excluded from this commandment? The Romans? The tax collectors?
Jesus responds with the story of the good Samaritan. You probably know the story: A man travels on a dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho, and is attacked by robbers who strip him, beat him and leave him half-dead. A priest happens to be traveling the same road but, instead of stopping to help, he passes by on the other side. Later, a Levite does the same. Both men are among the religious elite of their day but their religion does not extend to helping those in need.
We want to judge the priest and the Levite but, if we’re honest, we know how easy it is to ignore need—to pretend we haven’t noticed the neighbor struggling to start their car, or the person who always sits alone at church. We understand the temptation to walk on the other side of the street and hope someone else will stop to help.
Jesus introduces one more character to the story: a Samaritan. Samaritans were long-standing enemies of the Jews—in Jewish eyes, they were unclean outsiders. But when this Samaritan sees the dying man, he feels compassion for him. He bandages his wounds and takes him to an inn to care for him. He pays generously for the man’s ongoing care and promises to return and cover any additional expense.
The better question
Jesus follows up the story by asking, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The answer is obvious—the man’s enemy proved to be his neighbor. The priest and the Levite know what the law says, but the Samaritan puts it into practice. So Jesus tells the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.” In other words, You go and love your enemies too. Yes, even the Romans and the tax collectors. To us he might have said, Even the difficult neighbor, the depressed colleague, the older acquaintance with unsavory political views.
The lawyer assumes that there are some people who are his neighbors and others who are not. This enables him to put boundaries around his compassion and his welcome—he will love his neighbors but not his non-neighbors. We can be like this too. We ask, Who must I welcome? Who must I invite into my home? Who do I have to make space for? We may as well ask, Who do I not need to welcome? Who am I free to overlook or ignore? Who can someone else welcome?
But Jesus doesn’t divide the world into neighbors and non-neighbors like this. He says we should treat everyone as a neighbor—especially those who are most in need. He teaches us to ask the better questions: Who needs my welcome? Who do I have the opportunity to show generous hospitality to? Who has God placed in my path so that I may reflect his welcome?
These are the questions we should ask as we look around our church, our workplace and our neighborhood. They will help us think about who God wants us to show hospitality to. They will keep us from comfortable hospitality that prioritizes ease and convenience over another’s need. They will equip us to show love and compassion in the ordinary moments of everyday life.
This is an extract from Extraordinary Hospitality (for Ordinary People), a practical and realistic book from writer, speaker and pastor’s wife, Carolyn Lacey. She explores seven ways in which we can reflect God’s character in the way we welcome others into our homes and into our lives, and so point people ultimately to Christ. Originally posted here.