Hospitality is a word with rich Christian history. Monasteries grew up around the 5th century and are known to be some of the first primitive hospitals providing strangers care. Hospital, hospice, hospitable, hospitality—all from the same root word, meaning generous, caring, sustaining. The most famous of these monasteries was that of St. Benedict. Benedict created a book of rules to live by, called The Rule of Benedict. In his Rule St. Benedict specifically identifies two groups: the sick and the guests, especially guests who are poor and in prison, with reference to Matthew 25. Both groups are made up of vulnerable people, suggesting that Jesus Christ is particularly identified with those who are vulnerable.
Before these patients could be cared for they had to know they were sick. This is also true as we develop our concept of hospitality: firstly, it’s we must face up to the role we have inadvertently played in re-enforcing structures and systems of domination, oppression, and extreme inequality. In traditional Christian language we call this repentance of sin, both our personal and social participation in these systems of domination need to be understood and researched so that we might know our sin and participate with God in the worlds redemption. We cannot simply know that we are sick and participate in these systems; we must take care of each other in hospitable ways and remove ourselves from our destructive participation.
Secondly, hospitality refuses to assume a role of “service provider” as we see in Jesus’ teachings that whenever he shares meals with others, “guests” become “hosts” and “hosts” become “guests” (Zaccheus Luke 19:1-10, Martha Luke 10:38-42), what does he teach her about hosting? How might guests end up as hosts, giving us the gift of their presence, solidarity, and accompaniment? What happens when an act of hospitality not only welcomes strangers, but also recognizes their holiness?
This is our story of the Word being made flesh and moving into the neighborhood. The Christ has embodied the person of Jesus in such a unique way they are like a mirror reflection of each other (Colossians 1:15). God crosses the misconceived boundaries to become the suffering one, the most moved mover, the pained, lonely, and broken love-radical he was. On the cross we see the divine not as a “service provider” ready to swoop in and colonize the suffering through power and might or supernaturalism and magic, rather we see a God who sufferers with Jesus, as Jesus, through Jesus, and for the world to see that God doesn’t build crosses, God bears crosses.