hammering home hospitality

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail……or so the saying goes.

For those churches who follow the lectionary (a set cycle of bible readings around which church services are based), this week there is a story of Jesus’ encounter with a woman who washes Jesus feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, then cracks open an expensive alabaster jar of perfume to finish the job. All this happens in the middle of dinner….at which Jesus is a guest, and the woman an uninvited gate crasher.  Read it here.

I was chatting briefly about the passage with a colleague this morning, and she pointed out what were, to her, the important features of the story.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking a bit about hospitality lately, as I’m working with a group of people to host a training/reflection weekend on that theme.  So with hospitality in my mind for other reasons, I read this story looking for, and finding lots of expressions of hospitality.

When you have a hammer, you see nails.  And that’s the beauty of good stories (and the bible has more than a few good stories). Good stories speak at many levels, offering insights into many different situations, and allowing many different ways of interacting with them.

As I think about this story through the lense of hospitality, I’m drawn to ask the question, who offers who hospitality in this story?

Jesus is invited for dinner, but not particularly cared for by the host.  The cultural practice of offering water for foot washing for instance……is not extended.

The woman is not invited, but comes anyway and offers generous hospitality to Jesus.

Jesus in turn, seeing that the host is not happy about this intrusion, or Jesus welcoming of the visitor, extends welcome and honour to the uninvited guest in a must unexpected way.

What does it mean to offer hospitality in our culture today?  Or for that matter what does it mean to accept?  Surely it’s more than bringing a bottle of wine to dinner….or offering to do the dishes (an offer which must by convention be politely refused).

And who are the outsiders in our day? The uninvited? Who is not welcome at the table?  How can we make the outsider welcome…even if we are guest rather than host?

These are the kinds of questions this story evokes for me.  But I have to say, I’m wondering, what do you see in it? What kind of hammer are you holding?


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