by Charlotte Gleason

My husband, Jamie, grew up in the type of small town depicted in countless country songs. Wildlife and open space was more plentiful than people. And although we would be the first to debunk any romanticized notions of “country living,” we can both attest to something small towns do well: hospitality.

So, naturally, when we noticed a small sedan off the road, its rear end sinking in the mud, my husband offered his assistance. A rather forlorn twenty-something man held his cell phone in his hand, and we saw a police car arriving to the scene. Jamie pulled in the end of the driveway, ran down the road to the car, and volunteered the use of his truck. The young man gratefully nodded yes.

I stood with my children at the end of the driveway as they watched their father. After Jamie successfully pulled the car from the ditch, Lewis looked at me from under an umbrella and declared, “I am going to call him ‘amazing-dad’ for the rest of the day.” I kind of felt the same way.

After we entered the house, Jamie mentioned the police officer’s surprise at his help. Honestly, in a world of lawsuits, protocols, and endless liabilities, I was surprised he didn’t have to sign a waiver before towing the car from the ditch.  But Jamie and I were both reminded of the great suburban irony: our proximity only seems to create wider relational barriers.

This irony led me to reconsider the image of hospitality we typically envision – the homemade meal, the perfect table setting, and the gracious host and hostess standing by their wreathed door. Modern hospitality requires a plan, and anyone who knows me knows that I love a good plan. But the Bible defines hospitality quite differently. In fact, the Greek word for hospitality, “philoxenia,” means “love of strangers” (Strong’s Concordance). Paul exhorts the church to “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Romans 12:13). He challenges us to seek for opportunities to serve fellow Christians and strangers.  Oftentimes, hospitality requires us to be spontaneous.  I imagine Martha Stewart would cringe at such an idea, but consider the life of Jesus.

Throughout the gospels, we consistently see Jesus seeking crowds, knowing he would be begged, pulled, and touched by countless hands. Jesus sought strangers as much as he counseled those he knew well – his disciples. In many circumstances, his acts of service were spontaneous, like the woman who touched his hem (Matt. 9:20), or the paralyzed man lowered through the roof (Luke 5:17). Spontaneity often needs to be a part of hospitality.

I am writing about hospitality as summer opens, and I am challenged “to seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:13) in a moment as much as I seek to entertain with a plan. And my hope is that as a church we seek to bring a little more “small town” to not only our neighbors and strangers, but to the “saints” in our pews who also have very real needs.