In the books of Luke and Acts the ancient practice of hospitality—the custom of welcoming travelers or strangers into home’s and establishing relationships with them—becomes one of the major ways through which Jesus’ disciples can answer the call towards the great commission.
For the early Christians, giving and accepting hospitality were essential to loving God and neighbour. This is especially clear in Luke’s writings, where the practice of hospitality is an effective bridge for mission in the early Church and helps to unite congregations composed of members from diverse cultures.
In Acts 9:43-10:48, Luke weaves together three stories of hospitality to depict a crucial turning point in the spreading of the gospel—the welcoming of Gentiles into the Church. Peter accepts
hospitality from Simon the tanner in Joppa (9:43 and 10:6), provides hospitality to Cornelius’s messengers—even while he is a guest in Simon’s home (10:17-23), and then accepts hospitality from Cornelius, a Roman soldier in Caesarea (10:24-48).
The Practice of Welcoming Strangers:
To fully appreciate this tapestry of stories, we must see them in light of the ancient Mediterranean practice of hospitality and the role it plays in the larger biblical narrative.
The general practice of welcoming travelers was there to combat potential threats—both threats to strangers and threats to community living. The host protected a traveler from abuse by fearful townspeople and won the traveler’s goodwill for the town. If they both agreed, a host and guest
might exchange valuable gifts that symbolised the formation of a long-term, friendship or alliance between the two of them and their families.”
Why would anyone extend hospitality to a complete stranger, since it was so risky? A person might welcome a traveler to avoid offending Zeus, the patron of hospitality, or to establish a strategic alliance. But in a Judaism or in the church context, a follower of God showed love for God and others by extending hospitality to complete strangers. In addition, though it was not the primary motivation, some followers of God likely were motivated to extend hospitality to strangers by their desire to cultivate God’s blessings upon their own lives and households.
Hospitality is central in the Biblical Story:
There are many passages throughout the Old Testament as well as the New Testament from which to observe the custom of hospitality. The instruction in Hebrews 13:1-2, “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it,” echoes the stories of Abraham’s and Lot’s welcoming strangers who were actually Yahweh or Yahweh’s angels (Genesis 18:1-16, 19:1-23).
Likewise, the risen Jesus mysteriously appears as a traveling stranger to disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).This story provides guidelines for disciples: “Rather than shunning strangers, Jesus’ disciples would do well to journey alongside them. Rather than exclusively speaking to those they encounter along life’s journeys, Jesus’ disciples would do well to listen first. Rather than deeming others to be foolish, ignorant, and of no benefit, Jesus’ disciples would do well to assume that God might have revealed himself to strangers.
Rather than taking things at face value, Jesus’ disciples should realize that the Spirit is at work in the world around them.
Luke’s writings on hospitality remain timely today, for even more than in the ancient world, we encounter travelers and strangers from vastly different regions and cultures. Some are traveling by choice (e.g., students and immigrants), while others travel by necessity (e.g., evacuees from natural disasters and refugees from war-torn regions).”
To share the gospel and mold congregations that reflect God’s love in our mobile world that has grown defensive and harsh, we must allow God to move us past our prejudices. Through the practice of Christian hospitality the church participates in God’s peaceable kingdom, Such hospitality indicates the crossing of boundaries (ethnic origin, economic condition, political orientation, gender status, social experience, educational background) by being open and welcoming of the other.
Without such communities of hospitality, the world will have no way of knowing or understanding the Grace, Mercy and Compassion of God. Now if communities of boundless hospitality defines the church, then I say “bring it on!”