This is part of a discussion of Duane Elmer’s book “Cross Cultural Servanthood” which, while directed at a cross-cultural audience, has excellent principles that can be applied in all contexts. This is a review of chapter four. See also part one and part two.
Jesus’ outlandish habit of eating with “tax collectors and sinners” enraged Jewish religious leaders of his day. Why did such important men care so much about who Jesus ate with? By eating together, Jesus signaled his fellowship with and welcome of the scum of society. Religious teaching of the day disallowed welcoming and fellowshipping with one of them before they’d repented, changed, and become one of us.
Chapter four of Elmer’s book begins a focus on certain steps in the “pilgrimage” towards being a servant. Elmer uses the language of pilgrimage because it is indeed a journey to leave our ego-centric definitions of servanthood and begin to understand how those around us can best be served. The first step on the pilgrimage towards true, humble servanthood is openness. Elmer defines openness as “the ability to welcome people into your presence and make them feel safe”.
Human nature in general is set in an attitude of judgment and closure towards others. Studies show it takes us an average of 2.4 to 4.6 seconds to decide if there’s potential for a relationship with someone. Once we’ve categorized the person in front of us (and in that short amount of time, it can only be based on their appearance!), we close our minds about them and act towards them based on a decision taken in less than five seconds!
Jesus’ welcoming of sinners and outcasts into his presence continues in emphasis throughout the New Testament. Hospitality is listed among requirements for church leaders and mentioned by Paul, Peter, and John in their epistles. But while hospitality has come to mean in the West the welcoming of friends and family into your home – the word in Greek is rooted in the meaning “loving the stranger”. Hospitality is supposed to be practiced exactly opposite to what we as human beings find natural – it’s meant to welcome the one NOT like us.
Elmer quotes Miroslav Volf who writes, “The will to give ourselves to others and ‘welcome’ them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, is prior to any judgment about others, except that of identifying with them in their humanity.”
Every time we encounter another human being, Elmer writes, we have the opportunity to experience a “moment of grace, if we so choose – or a moment of profanity… We profane another person whenever we fail to honor them as human beings. Because every human being is made in the image of God, each is intrinsically connected to him and is therefore sacred, being stamped with God’s own imprint… Jesus’ identification with us is so intense that whatever touches us touches him. And whatever I do to another human, I do to him. By profaning another person, I profane God. Thus the greater profanity may not be cursing, bad as that is, but failing to extend openness and hospitality to another person who bears the Creator’s image.”
Especially in the church, we seem far too willing to label other human beings in a way that means we don’t have to welcome them with openness and hospitality. They’re of a different denomination or a different culture or from a different part of town. They’re liberal or homosexual or Muslim. Somehow their differentness is our excuse not to express openness towards them. What we’re not seeing is that biblical hospitality is meant especially for those who are other than us.
By stretching ourselves to mirror God’s radical openness as seen in Jesus, we take the first step on the pilgrimage towards divine servanthood.
Do you practice hospitality primarily to those who are like you? How do you react to the call to welcome specifically strangers and those different from you?