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  • catherinecowell


Image: Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

Hospitality is a beautiful thing. True hospitality enables both the welcomer and the welcomed to be themselves. A good host creates space and proffers an invitation for you to come, to be at ease, to be yourself in the space that they have created for you. And that space will be a reflection of the person who is offering it. Never more so when hospitality happens in someone's home and you find yourself surrounded by their possessions, their sense of taste and style, the things which speak of who they are.

Ultimately, we are welcomed by God, who has created space within God's self to welcome us.

Although one outworking of hospitality happens when we invite someone into our home to care for them or to share food and friendship, when we invite someone to make themselves at home in our home, that's not the core of it. The core of hospitality is the welcoming of the other. You can do that wherever you are. By being authentically yourself while creating psychological space for others to be themselves and to be at ease.

It's interesting to note that Jesus took his hospitality with him. When he was on earth, he didn't have a home where he held dinner parties, but he was unfailingly hospitable. Often in other people's houses. He invites himself to dinner at Zaccheus's home. His presence in someone else's house often seems to encourage others to make themselves at home in ways that could seriously inconvenience or embarrass his hosts. The woman with the alabaster jar who turns up at Simon the pharisee's house and pours perfume on his feet. The friends of the paralytic who make a hole in the ceiling so they can get their friend to Jesus.

I'm reminded of the non-Christian husband of a baptist minister friend. When she was going through the process of discernment, one of the requirements was an interview of them both together. When he was asked what he thought about her becoming a minister, he said that he understood that there "might be catering implications". Being a friend of Jesus definitely had catering implications. And you could never be sure about who would be coming with Jesus, except that it was probably going to be quite a lot of people.

Jesus didn't just take his hospitality to other people's homes, he took it everywhere.

The barbecue on the beach after he rose from the dead. Feeding the thousands of people who had walked for days to listen to him (with someone else's packed lunch). His refusal to send away the children who wanted to come to him. On the way to heal Jairus' daughter, he made the woman who snuck alongside him and touched his cloak feel at home enough to tell her whole story. When I read that, I imagine a hospitable, welcome place for this outcast woman, that she found in his eyes and his undivided attention.

Should Jesus have had his own place to welcome people? No. I don't think so. It wouldn't have been practical. He was itinerant. But more than that, there is a certain power inherent in being the person doing the hosting. A power that Jesus never exercised. He was always on other people's turf, while managing, somehow, to make it his own.

Hospitality can be radical and political. At Greenbelt, David Benjamin Blower sang a song about justice where he encouraged the radicals to get together and plot over the dinner table. Welcoming the marginalised and the excluded is not just an act of care and mercy it's also a prophetic and political statement.

Hospitality can change things. One of my favourite episodes of the On Being podcast is a conversation between a former anti-semitic white supremacist and an Orthodox Jew. The reason the white supremacist is now a former white supremacist is that he was invited, repeatedly, to shabbat dinner:

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