When I was a child we often visited friends and family, all the kids sleeping in the living room floor on piles of quilts. It was fun because it was different and exciting, and not one of us complained. Dinner was never fancy because none of us were wealthy, but all my aunts could cook as well as my mother and we knew it would be good whatever it was. We practiced the hospitality shown in the Bible to our families, to our neighbors, and to our brothers and sisters in the Lord. What has happened to us?
Even if we aren’t particularly wealthy, we have fallen for the nonsense that because we cannot offer what the wealthy offer, we should offer nothing at all. How do we excuse it? I don’t have a spare room. I don’t have a bathroom for every bedroom. The spare room I do have is too small. The bathroom is too tiny. My grocery budget is too small and my time too little for cooking. I work. I have an infant in the house who still wakes up at night. And the perennial favorite, “You know, times are different now.”
Not so much, folks. Lydia worked, yet she made Paul and Silas an offer they couldn’t refuse—she told them they would be insulting her faith if they did not stay with her. Unless I am reading something into it that isn’t there, Priscilla worked right alongside her husband, “for they were tentmakers.” Yet Paul didn’t stay with them for just a night or two—he lived with them for a good while. Abraham was a very busy man—he had more employees than some towns in that day had citizens, yet he not only offered hospitality, he actively looked for people who might need it.
“But they had servants!” some whine. If you don’t think your modern conveniences fill the place of servants, you have never thought about what it took back then to cook—they started with the animals on the hoof, people! Their cooking involved building a fire from scratch, sometimes in the heat of the day. And here we sit with the meat already butchered in our electric refrigerators, ready to put in our gas or electric ovens. We clean with our vacuum cleaners, pick up ready-made floral arrangements at the grocery store, make sure the automatic shower cleaner and the stuck-on toilet cleaner are still in service, and stop at the bakery for the bread. Then, when it’s all done, we put the dirty dishes in our dishwashers, and we do it all in our air conditioned homes.
Part of the problem may also be the expectations of guests these days. It isn’t just that people are no longer hospitable—it’s that people are spoiled and self-indulgent. They don’t want to sleep on a sofa. They don’t want to share a bathroom with a couple of kids. They will not eat what is offered. We aren’t talking about health situations like diabetes and deadly allergies. We are talking about people who care more about their figures than their fellowship; people who were never taught to graciously accept what was placed in front of them, even knowing it was the best their hosts could afford, because, “I won’t touch_______________,” (fill in the blank).
We once ate with a hard-working farm family who had invited us and two preachers over for dinner. Dinner was inexpensive fare--they had five children and had invited us six to share their meal. Later that evening, when we had left their home, we heard those two preachers making fun of what of they had been served and laughing about it. I hope those poor people never got wind of it.
When we raise our children to act in similarly ungracious ways, when we consider them too precious to sleep on a pallet on the floor, as if their royal hides could feel a minuscule pea beneath all those quilts, what can we expect? Do you think it doesn’t happen? We once had a guest who told me she had rather not sleep where I put her. It was the only place I had left to put her. I already had four other guests when she had shown up at my door unannounced. She was more than welcome—I have taken in unexpected guests many times--but where were this one’s manners?
Do you know how many times we have been told, “Do you know how far it is out there?” when we invited someone thirty miles out in the country to our home for a meal. Excuse me? Of course we know how far it is—we drive it back and forth at least three times a week just to the church building, not counting other appointments.
This matter of hospitality worries me. It tells me we have become self-indulgent and materialistic when it comes both to offering it and accepting it. God commands us to Show hospitality to one another without grumbling, 1 Pet 4:9. What has happened to the enjoyment of one another’s company, the encouragement garnered by sharing conversation and bumping elbows congenially in close quarters, and the love nurtured by putting our feet under the same table, by opening not only our homes but our hearts?
What has happened to the joy of a pallet on the floor?
One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us, Acts 16:14,15.