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Toward Jesus’ Hospitality

In a world where xenophobia is intensifying, God calls us to practice philoxenia, love toward strangers, which in Greek means hospitality. The hospitality that we are talking about is a hospitality that Jesus embodied. From my perspective, I think there are at least three recognizable stages: common, widening, and mutual hospitality.

Common Hospitality 

Through common hospitality, Christians open their houses, serve meals, and have good-quality conversations. In this welcoming environment, we listen to each other with openness and curiosity, share and hear each other’s stories, and cultivate deeper empathy and bond. This type of hospitality is quite valuable in a society where individualism is highly emphasized. Plus, this practice enhances our quality of life! Numerous scientific studies prove that a good relationship is the key to a healthy and happy life. Yet, some lacking aspects of this hospitality are that it is typically practiced among people with whom we have similar backgrounds and personalities. To go beyond this limitation, we need to widen our circle of relationship.

Widening Hospitality       

While carrying some key elements of common hospitality, I have seen some sisters and brothers who have widened their circle of hospitality. They leave their comfort zone and intentionally invite people who are from different backgrounds. Hence, this hospitality becomes a space and a place of intercultural, inter-ethnic, inter-racial, and inter-generational encounters and engagements.

In 2013, Public Religion Research Institute did a study and reported that the friendship networks of White Americans are 91% White. Here, the definition of a friend means people within their inner group and not like work colleagues, classmates, church members, neighbour or even a family member. In 2022, the institute did another study and they reported that the friendship network of white Americans remains the same, around 90% white.

How about Canada, eh? In 2013, Statistics Canada reported that 94% of White Canadians’ friendship network is 94% white. Unfortunately, there is no recent research done but based on the trend that we saw from the US side, it would not be surprising if we remain somewhere around 90%. Statistics Canada also stated that this percentage of friendship network goes up more in a religious setting, especially if a religious group is connected to a particular ethnicity.

This data is showing the reality of our modern-day segregation and so the practice of widening hospitality is a way to witness God’s love and the communion of the body of Christ. An intercultural worship not only reflects God’s vision but also, it is telling to the world that an intercultural/interracial community is possible. Still, even in the widening hospitality, one concern that I have is that there is a dichotomy between hosts and guests; as a result, in this dynamic, asymmetry of power is unavoidable. Thus, a much deeper practice of hospitality calls us to engage in mutual hospitality, a type of hospitality that Jesus modeled. 

Mutual Hospitality

A typical understanding of hospitality is that some play the role of the hosts and some, the guests. The hosts serve the guests and are encouraged to be sensitive to the needs of the guests. At the same time, the guests are to receive with openness and gratitude what is being served and to be attentive to the boundaries: don’t overstay, complain, demand too much, etc. The problem becomes when the hosts continually remain as hosts and the guests continually remain as guests. Once enough trust and encounters have been formed, the relationship needs to shift into a more mutual interaction, toward mutual hospitality, where those who have been the hosts become guests, and those who have been the guests become hosts. When there is mutual hospitality, the people who were served will have the opportunity to serve and participate, and those who have been serving will receive and enjoy the gifts of the new hosts. Through this mutual interaction, a kind of covenantal exchange happens, where both hosts and guests receive and give, and both are mutually transformed. 

When you read the Bible carefully, we sometimes see God being a guest. We know that God welcomes us as a mother and that God is the ultimate host. We also know that Jesus is our good shepherd, and the Holy Spirit our comforter and counselor. At the same time, Jesus came to this earth as a guest and the clearest image and example of this is, baby Jesus. He came as a being who fully depended on us, to human beings, we who are imperfect, sinful, but beautifully and wonderfully created beings. By being dependent on us, He was and is willing to be served by us, to be contaminated by us, and to form an interdependent relationship with us. Jesus is our host and at the same time, he is our guest. And he is inviting us to follow his example. By giving and receiving, we are being interdependent, and together, forming a new structure, culture, and community.

Ultimately, what biblical hospitality is aiming for is a community of believers where everyone belongs. The goal is to become God’s family. In this understanding of hospitality, we need to move from common hospitality to widening hospitality, and to mutual hospitality, while maintaining some healthy boundaries. Let me be clear. Biblical hospitality is difficult and messy work but I will assure you that through this, you will all be enriched and transformed. After all, when we go to heaven, we will be spending together eternally! So, why not start finding ways to be a family of God, here and now, by practicing Jesus’ hospitality?

Photo by fauxels


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