A Malawian man told me his story. His mother died at the age of 10. His father died at the age of 14 and he was on his own. He had 7 brothers and sisters. By the time he was 18, four of them had died. Only he and two others remained. This young man's life was filled with pain and loss and he was at risk. Yet, here he is, now a married man in mid 30's in full time ministry and has taken in more children than he can count and currently is paying school fees for several children. Almost every person in Malawi has taken in multiple children and cared for them. Many of them are providing school fees for younger brothers or sisters even though they struggle to provide for their own children. This is a result of their extended family culture. What we call cousins, they call sisters and brothers. It is also a result of the ravages of extreme poverty and AIDS/HIV which has left many parents unable to care for their children and thousands of children orphans.
So I am in Malawi and one of my lessons is on hospitality. What am I going to do? How can I teach these people anything about hospitality?! It is only God's Word that is truth for all generations, nations that can teach us together about a kind of hospitality that can be practiced anywhere in the world. If our view of hospitality is only possible in San Clemente but cannot be practiced in Malawi, it is not the truth and it is not the biblical view of hospitality. Teaching in Malawi I have learned also. What we discovered together from our study of Zacchaeus about hospitality applies to us wherever we live and whatever we have. It is the hospitality of Christ that prevented this young man from becoming a fearful, angry, and lost orphan. The presence and love of Christ transformed him. At the very core of hospitality is being with and accepting others.
Biblical hospitality, being with and accepting people, is not location specific. Wherever we are Jesus is the host. It is his grace and mercy that is with us and accepts us--makes us part of his family and given us all that we have. He owns all of creation, and because He lives in us by his Spirit when we invite people wherever we invite them Jesus is the real host. Zacchaeus invited Jesus to his home but it was Jesus who was the host offering Zacchaeus much more than Zacchaeus offered Jesus. Whether we invited people into our home or whether we enter the home of another, or whether we meet somewhere else, the presence of Christ hosts us. It is Jesus who comes to us and because of this hospitality can be practiced anywhere. Our wealth or poverty does not determine the quality of our hospitality. The presence and power of Christ brings more to us than anything we can provide. When we allow that presence and power to show through our lives we provide hospitable space where others can experience being with Jesus and seeing his gracious accepting love.
Biblical hospitality transforms guests. After being with Jesus and experiencing his gracious acceptance, Zacchaeus was a changed man. He could not remain the same. He who had been a cheat, became honest. He who was a thief became generous. He who was lost was saved. When we offer only our own resources people might be delighted but they will not be changed. But when we offer whatever we have as evidence of Christ's presence and loving acceptance they can be transformed by encountering the present and powerful Christ.
And let's not forget that Zacchaeus was an unlikely character to be transformed. The whole community knew he was a sinner. His job as chief tax collector meant everyone knew he was a thief. They grumbled when Jesus decided to go to his house because his reputation was well known. The least likely guest in our eyes just may be the one most likely to be transformed.
This is biblical hospitality that can be practiced in Malawi or in San Clemente. We open our homes whatever they are like, we enter others whatever they are like, or with biblical hospitality we can create a third space to meet people. In all three cases, Jesus is the host who by his presence provides more than we could ever provide and when we allow others to see him through us, his presence, his acceptance--love--can transform those we invite and even those who invite us.
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