“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” ! Peter 4:9
I am a decent cook with a few meals that I make well and other dishes that I could improve on. I watch cooking shows, read cookbooks, and have more recipes saved on Pinterest then I will ever make. I use a wide variety of spices and herbs from bright basil to fruity sumac to spicy fennel seeds. My main problem in cooking is that I don’t trust my instincts. I tend to follow a recipe to the letter and have a hard time adding my own personal twist. Honestly, I am ok with that because, although I love to cook, cooking is often a means to end for me. What I really enjoy about the cooking process is putting food on the table and creating a comfortable place for people to connect.
Hospitality is a buzz word today. If you shop at Target, Hobby Lobby or TJ Maxx, you can find all sorts of merchandise to help you with your entertaining needs including charcuterie boards, olive wood salad bowls, ceramic serving platters and glass lemonade pitchers. Pinterest has all kinds of ideas for having your friends over, from a nacho bar to a burger buffet to a brunch. Although I have tried some of these ideas, these social media constructs can put a lot of pressure on a person to perform beyond their level of comfort level. I’ve been pondering the concept of hospitality, both how to cultivate it in our lives and some of the pitfalls that keep us from inviting someone over for a simple meal. I hope these thoughts help take the pressure off of entertaining guests.
First, hospitality is a Biblical concept that Jesus himself practiced. He could have easily sent the crowd away after performing countless miracles. Instead, he miraculously provided a simple meal for the crowd consisting of fish and bread. We don’t know what transpired during that meal, but I can imagine Jesus walking around the crowd, connecting with individuals, making sure they were satisfied and trying to get to know them better. In addition, Paul admonishes both widows and deacons to practice hospitality. Peter gives a general instruction to Christians in 1 Peter 4:9 saying, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” The Greek word translated here as hospitality is philoxenos, defined as being generous to guests.
Second, we need to find a way to be hospitable that aligns with our personality and gifting. As an extrovert, having a large group of people over and making individuals feel connected comes easy for me. You might prefer small groups, so then just invite one family over. I am also a casual person, who always googles how to set a table properly when holidays come around. On the flip-side, I do love putting my food in beautiful serving dishes. Whether you prefer formal China or paper plates, do what is comfortable for you. If you are uncomfortable with what you are doing your guests will know it and, in turn, they will feel uncomfortable. We once attended an open house with a scheduled time slot, and the hostess ushered us through the house at a break-neck pace because she had a schedule of guests to adhere to. Both my husband and I appreciated the invite, but we left feeling as frantic as the hostess.
Third, the menu can be as simple or elaborate as your season of life and skill set can handle. When my children were young, beef roast was often the meal I made when serving friends. It sat in the crockpot all day getting tender while I attended to toddlers. Now that my children are adults, I can prepare more elaborate meals, but, sometimes, I still keep it simple, like burgers. I also have one go-to meal that is often a crowd pleaser, my chicken fajitas. I have a good handle on how much to make no matter what the size of the crowd. If cooking is not your thing, feel free to order take out. Pizza is always a winner. If you have a limited budget, soups are also good.
Finally, it’s okay to be a “Martha” when prepping for the meal, but once your guests arrive, be a “Mary”. We all know the story in the Bible when Martha pleads with Jesus to chastise her sister, Mary, for not helping in serving their guests. To Martha’s surprise, Jesus admonishes her instead and says that Mary “has chosen the good portion.” Although Jesus is referring to the fact that Mary was prioritizing spiritual matters over housekeeping, I think it can also apply to being a hostess. Sharing a meal with other people requires us to be present. Yes, put your leftovers away in a timely manner so no one gets food poisoning the next day. Yes, you might want to quickly clear the table so conversation can continue without dirty plates in front of you. But leave the dishes in the sink and use the time you have to visit with your guests.
I just finished Shauna Niequest’s book “Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table”. It’s a delightful book with essays on hospitality and includes some amazing recipes to try. In a world where we have felt disconnected in the past year due to the pandemic, racial tensions, and political upheaval, I think its time to invite others back into our homes. Shauna says it best: “This is how the world changes-little by little, table by table, meal by meal, hour by hour. This is how we chip away at isolation, loneliness, fear. This is how we connect, in big and small ways, -we do it around the table.”