Denise grew up in a very wealthy home. Her parents were both prominent and highly regarded businesspersons who hosted many affairs in their palatial home. Many were the evenings in which Denise dined sumptuously with her parent's guests, almost all of whom were individuals of social prominence. Guest lists often included celebrities who were involved in international business enterprises abroad and desired her parent's influence to secure a particular outcome. Denise's home was listed in several magazines not only due to its size and decor but also because of its spectacular and opulent gardens. To maintain and even upgrade their lavish lifestyle, Denise's parents spared no expense. Unfortunately, Denise had come to think of her way of life as typical. It was unthinkable to her that others did not live as she did.
As Denise grew older, she became dissatisfied with life, for it seemed to lack meaning. Oh, she continued to participate in the social round of lavish parties her parents and others threw as part of her social obligations, but something seemed to be missing. Sometime during this turbulent time in her life, Denise decided to take a solo trip to a small country in South-America to get away from the superficiality of her life. Out of curiosity, she decided she would visit a little village miles away from the central city, to see how the native people lived. Denise hoped the experience would help her change something about her life. On her journey to the village, Denise marveled at the simple beauty of the land. The hills shimmered in the daylight as the countryside reflected the sun. No, it wasn't a glare, but a soft light seemed to bathe every tree and plant upon which she looked. Denise felt herself relaxing and thought that it was beautiful to be alive, a thought she hadn't had in a long time. Shortly after that, the bus -- if you could call it that -- pulled into town, and Denise got off. How simple and beautiful everything was.
Friendly and hospitable people were milling about everywhere, and most of them pleasantly smiled as they met Denise's glance. It was thrilling to arrive at the small village finally. In just a few minutes, it seemed that all of the shops closed right before her eyes. Bewildered, Denise wondered what was going on, and where everyone was heading. At last, she found herself alone in the street, lost, confused, and unsure of what to do next. An older lady, passing by her living room window, saw Denise and bade her come to the door. Uncertain, Denise just stood in the street. Suddenly, a young boy came out of the house and said to her in broken English, "Will you join us for siesta?" Taking her hand, he led her into his home and to his grandmother. Once inside, Denise joined the simple family as they washed and sat down to eat. Curious about their new guest who did not speak Spanish well, they communicated their welcome with hand gestures. Soon, Denise realized that if her hosts spoke slowly, she could understand them. She hoped in turn that they might be able to understand her broken Spanish, and so she attempted to speak. As the siesta time came to a close that early evening, the oldest daughter stood up, and bundled some food for Denise to take with her. Grateful, Denise tried to offer her hostess money but was kindly rebuffed. Coming close to her, the young boy who took her hand and led her into his home whispered, "to give us money is insulting; we do this because you are our guest."
Humbled, Denise never forgot her experience of genuine hospitality in the small South-American village. And upon her return home, she spoke more often of that family's hospitable treatment than she did of her parent's lavish and sumptuous entertaining affairs. You see, Denise had come to realize that there is a difference between entertaining and being hospitable. Her parents entertained to impress and amuse their guests. Fully believing the adage that "one hand washes the other," they anticipated that at the appropriate time, they would receive something of value in return for their efforts.
In contrast, the South-American family expected nothing from Denise; they shared what they had. However, Denise felt that her presence was desired and appreciated. Such a far cry from so many of the guests her parents had entertained because they had to make a good impression.
As Thursday's lesson so wisely says, there is a difference between hospitality and entertaining. In the Middle East, the concept of hospitality is taken very seriously, for, without it, many travelers would perish in that dry, hot, arid land. The taking into your home of strangers who are merely traveling by your dwelling has been replaced with the inviting of people you like, or want to impress into your home. Surprisingly, hospitality is about others, while entertaining is about you.
The Bible defines hospitality as "a tangible _expression of self-giving love ... [which] springs from the hearts of those who have been touched by God's love and want to express their love in words and actions (to others)." In simple terms, hospitality is offering and sharing with others what God has so graciously provided for you. What has God given you? Yes, you can look around at all your material possessions, and your degrees and your career accomplishments; you can even look back at the time God healed you of some terrible disease, or miraculously spared you from dying in that horrible accident. You can also look back at the child He gave you in answer to your prayers. But, have you not read John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." God gave to you His Son; He gave to you pardon and spared you from eternal death.
Additionally, God gave you the promise of eternal life. What else has God given you? He gave you His Holy Spirit to lead, guide, and direct you on your journey to the eternal kingdom. Furthermore, God has given you His agape-love. Have you by faith received these things, and made them yours? You cannot share what you do not have. You cannot give what is not yours.
Mary Magdalene gave to Jesus all that God through Christ had given her: the 300 hundred denarii's for the alabaster ensconced Spikenard, and His agape-love (Mark 14:3). This is perhaps the most famous example of hospitality in scripture. While Simon's guests condemned Mary for her real demonstration of hospitality, Jesus praised her. By Jesus response, Simon was rebuked for entertaining instead of being hospitable. In Luke 7:44-47 we read--
Luke 7:44 Then He turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give Me any water for My feet, but she wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.
Luke 7:45 You did not give Me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing My feet.
Luke 7:46 You did not put oil on My head, but she has poured perfume on My feet.
Luke 7:47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."
The text establishes the contrast. Those who get a hold of God's agape-love are hospitable; while those who neither understand nor receive, choose to entertain. God wants to make us hospitable; let's allow Him to have His way, for the blessings we seek, are wrapped up in benevolence.