‘Practice Hospitality’: Christian Charity and American Freedom
Advice from St. Paul for Independence Day and beyond.
On July 4, we celebrate the notion that we, the people of the United States of America, will wake up in a free country. We may gather with friends and family members to celebrate this great nation, which was founded on principles of liberty and justice for all.
Plumbing the depths of what this means, I am instantly taken to the heart of my faith and the face of Jesus Christ, who is Freedom itself. As we reflect on what it means to be free, we may think about how we might be better stewards of the rights we’ve been given.
Our Constitution outlines the rights we have as American people and provides us with insights into how we might treat our neighbors. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul provides the rubric of what we must do in order to form a more perfect kingdom. He writes:
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality” (Romans 12:9-13).
Practice hospitality: Why is it that St. Paul would put this command among the likes of “hate what is evil” and “serve the Lord”? Clearly, this call must go beyond mere politeness or cultural nuances. From a man who was never one to mince words, this phrasing demands further reflection.
Imitating Christ’s radical hospitality exemplified throughout the Gospels, we can experience and share greater freedom with our fellow countrymen and women.
Wash Their Feet
The Gospels are peppered with moments when Jesus practiced radical hospitality, including washing the feet of his apostles. As we strive to be better citizens of our free nation, and better witness to Christ, let us strive to practice this gesture in our own lives.
No, I am not suggesting a foot-washing station at your Independence Day party.
But think about how you can better serve your friends, family and neighbors, from setting irritations aside to keeping an eye out for someone who seems ill at ease and could use some friendly conversation — or a second helping.
It is common to connect hospitality with service, specifically involving food and drink, or hosting visitors. While these are certainly opportunities for hospitality, I believe they only scratch the surface.
Outside of hosting or serving, I believe we can and should be hospitable in our speech. Jesus, of course, offered this form of hospitality to everyone he encountered.
When I am with people who speak well of others, not only does it elevate the conversation and bring up the mood, it also makes me feel safe. There is a certain rest in knowing that, upon leaving the room, you will not be the next topic of chatter.
As Americans, we have the right to free speech. As such, let us be liberated to use this incredible gift to carve out a place where our words provide people with rest and reprieve.
Dine With All
Jesus was not one to find himself strictly among the well-groomed, well-educated elite class. Rather, he welcomed all. He was moved by love for each individual.
We, too, must allow a true encounter to take place every time we meet someone.
The idea of Christian hospitality rests on the premise that Christ is living in us and in everyone we encounter. As such, when we come into contact with another person, we are truly coming into contact with Christ.
Christ would have looked people in the eye. He would have asked interesting questions and been a really good listener. He would have been attentive if a person felt uncomfortable, or if a person was really excited to talk about something in particular. If someone disagreed and offered an opposing viewpoint, he would have listened patiently. May we strive to live this way, too.
Indeed, radical, biblical hospitality can be a balm for weary souls.
So much has been sacrificed to keep our land free, and so much has been entrusted to us to ensure this freedom remains. Perhaps, in encountering one another with the notion that Christ is dwelling in each of us, and in living as St. Paul urges us to, we might find more common ground and relish more richly in the freedoms that God has given to us.