It used to be said that one of the best features of southern American culture was its spirit of hospitality. Well, like many things in this modern age, hospitality is virtually dead. We often hear the voice of Ben Franklin in the South -”Fish and friends stink after three days.” These days, we might edit that saying and shorten the time to two days or even one day. Certainly, it is a chore to have a guest. When someone is invited into our home, their needs and comfort becomes more important than our own. We don’t expect a guest to cook a meal, or to wash clothes or dishes, or to run the vacuum cleaner. There may be other reasons why we are slow to invite guests over and show hospitality, but I think its often because we are too tired and the business of life makes us want to just come home and cave.
The hospitality of the Near East was even greater than that of Southern America. In the Mediterranean world, even an enemy would be treated as an honored guest if they were invited into a home. No one would dare to raise a hand against them for if they did, they would insult the host. Therefore, the story of Jesus in the house of Pharisee is an amazing one. The Pharisee desired that the Lord come into his house and eat. Yet, the host did not show Jesus the basics of hospitality. Walking the dusty roads of Israel, a host would provide water for the feet of a guest. Since the sun could become very hot and the weather dry, a host would provide oil which could be put on the head of a guest to help with dryness. At the very least, a host would properly greet the guest when he arrived. The Pharisee did none of this.
If we are Christians, then the name implies that we are people of hospitality. We are to open our homes to guests and pilgrims and to properly provide for their comfort and care. This is how we should be, but I think there is a spiritual reason why we are slow to be hospitable.
Like the Pharisee, I want Jesus to enter into my house. My house is my soul. He knocks at the door and is most willing to come in. Yet, I do not greet him when he enters; I provide no water for his feet; I have no oil for his head. I am a most ungrateful and unworthy host. I can’t imagine inviting anyone, especially someone of great importance, into my house and not making preparations to greet them well and show them hospitality. Yet, the King of Kings, the Lord of all, has entered into my house, and I do not prepare, and I do not tend to His needs. I am preoccupied with my own concerns and needs.
The Lord said it rightly – it is a matter of forgiveness and love. The Lord entered Zacchaeus’ house, and Zacchaeus made the Lord most welcome by his repentance. The Lord said about the woman who washed his feet with her tears that since she had been forgiven much, she loved much. Her love compelled her to show the Lord proper hospitality. Obviously, I have no sense of what has been forgiven me and so I love very little. The evidence is that the Lord enters my house and I give him little or nothing.
We should be clear about how the Lord enters into our house. Of course, he wants to come by the Spirit into my heart. Without that, all else would be futile. He also comes to me in the Church and its liturgies. How do I prepare for the Guest who comes to meet me here? Do I study the scripture for the service? Do I read any of the prayers of preparation? Am I ready to anoint His head or wash His feet with my tears?
He also comes to me in other people. Leo Tolstoy wrote the story of Martin the Cobbler. Martin believed that the Lord would literally come to him the next day, but as he waited, only village people came to see him with problems and concerns. At the end of the day, Martin was sad because the Lord had not come. Then in a moment, the Lord appeared to him and told Martin that He had come. As Martin watched in amazement, the Lord transformed into the images of all of the people who came into the shop that day.
Well, if I show the Lord himself little or no hospitality as he enters under the roof of my house, its not too likely that I will see Him in other people and serve him in other people. So when my wife comes and needs a place to rest, I am too busy. When my children need my time, I am too tired. When I come to Church, I want to be welcomed as an honored guest, but I certainly don’t want to hear about the needs of others, or serve those needs. Of course, I am most willing to tell you about my aches and pains, trials and tribulations. I am angered when you don’t show proper concern. When I ask “How’s it going”, its not a serious question. I hope that the answer is “fine, thanks” If I don’t sincerely ask, it’s because I don’t want to wash your feet and anoint your head.
Hospitality is dead. Maybe its because my love is dead.
Can this change? Can my love be reborn? The Lord gave the answer and the Church tells us the same thing Sunday after Sunday. Repent! He who has been forgiven much loves much. He who has been forgiven little, loves little. He who loves much comes to serve, not to be served.