by Christine Sine.
Hospitality in ancient Palestine was more than a courtesy extended to friends and travellers. It was the means that villages used to determine if strangers were friends or enemies, a threat or an asset to the community. Extending hospitality by providing food, water and shelter was a way to temporarily adopt strangers into the community and hopefully convert a potential threat into a friendly alliance. Sometimes oil was poured over the head of the stranger as a sign of welcome.
It is probable that it was these customs that David referred to in Psalm 23:
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings. (Psalm 23:5)
In this verse, David is probably not talking about God preparing a banquet for us to eat while our enemies sit around with empty stomaches drooling over the lavish food we are enjoying. This is a verse that speaks of the ancient practice of hospitality, an invitation to sit down and enjoy a meal with strangers and those we perceive as a threat, an encouragement to seek for understanding and reconciliation rather than division and hatred.
What is Your Response?
We live in a world of great division where there is much necessity for all of us to sit down over a meal with those we disagree with and see as a threat. As you think about this what comes to mind? What situations are you currently facing that might be defused by sitting around the table during the thanksgiving or Advent season and sharing a meal? Where have you seen God prepare a feast that has brought enemies together and overcome fears and disagreements? How could you prepare a meal “in the presence of your enemies” and offer open hospitality to those you disagree with?
In Jesus’ day, this kind of hospitality was considered more than a commandment. It was a sacred obligation, filled with the joy of serving both others and God. Those that did not extend hospitality to orphans, widows and the homeless could be rejected. Like early monastics and Celtic Christians, Jews believed that sometimes in welcoming strangers they welcomed angels into their midst.
Jesus repeatedly demonstrated his joy in offering hospitality as he fed the crowds and shared a passover meal with his disciples. Even after his death, he came back to share meals as a way to communicate his message of salvation and hope.
As I thought about this today, the picture that came to me was of Jesus sitting and eating that last meal with Judas. Then I saw him get down and wash Judas’s feet. He must have realized that Judas was about to betray him, but he still reached out in embrace not division. I wonder if he hoped that through this gracious act of hospitality towards him Judas would change his mind.
What is Your Response?
At communion each week our priest says “All are welcome at the table” yet the welcome of God begins long before the institution of communion at the last supper. Radical hospitality is at the heart of the festive season. In fact the whole story of Christmas is about the radical hospitality of a God who comes to welcome us all home to the kingdom banquet.
Many feel surrounded by enemies in the current political climate. How do we respond in these hard times? This is not a time for complacency but for commitment, not for hate but for love, not to close doors but to open them, not for violence but for peace, not to wound but to heal, not to bring division but to inspire reconciliation.
There is no better place to learn to listen, not to the answers in our own heads but to the unsettling questions others are asking, than when sitting around the table sharing a meal. And there is no better time of year to take Jesus radical call to hospitality seriously and reach out with love not hate, seeking to build bridges not walls, to embrace compassion not conflict. Christmas is about listening to the voice of God entering our world and it is in the place of listening that change can begin for all of us.
As we move towards Thanksgiving (at least here in the U.S.), Advent and Christmas, think about the people you disagree with, want to exclude or think are about to betray you. How could you reach out with radical hospitality to them at this season? Sit with your eyes closed and listen to this version of Psalm 23. What names come to mind? Perhaps it is someone like Mary, an unwed mother who could have been thrown out by her family. Or someone like the shepherds, despised by the society around them yet welcomed to the manger. Or the wise men, foreigners like immigrants, refugees and those of other religions. What are the first steps you need to make to reach out in a spirit of hospitality and reconciliation? How could you embrace the radical journey of hospitality?
Lord, help us to listen deeply not to the answers in our own heads but to the questions others ask. Lord, help us to provide environments where others can relax, express themselves and learn to listen too. We know that listening is where change begins and we all need to change. May we learn to listen deeply and see our world transformed.