Anointing as Hospitality
In his excellent study of the famous Biblical passage on shepherds, (The Good Shepherd: A Thousand Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament), scholar Ken Bailey provides helpful context to the anointing mentioned in Psalm 23:5:
Anointing in Scripture took place for a variety of reasons. Consecration and inauguration were among them (Is 61:1). Wounds and sores were anointed with oil (Lk 10:34), along with the sick in general (Jas 5:14), but here the reference is to anointing as an act of hospitality. Psalm 23:5 focuses on anointing at a banquet where the host anoints the head of the guest.
In the Middle East, oil used for such anointing is usually perfumed. Once again the clearest biblical example of this custom is in Luke 7:35-50, but the practice is of great antiquity. From Egypt, during the reign of Thutmose III (d. 1426 B.C.), we have a stunning tomb painting of eight young women at a banquet where each has a cone of scented oil on her head. The point is that the body heat of the guest slowly melts the perfumed cone and the oil thus gradually runs down over her body, anointing her continuously all evening long. The servant girl sports a cone on her head as well.
Taken from The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament by Kenneth E. Bailey, Copyright (c) 2014, p.80 by Kenneth E. Bailey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
The Boodle Feast
In his helpful book Peace Catalysts, Rick Love shares a poignant example of how sharing a meal can break down the familiar walls of status, power, and economics:
In 2011, my wife, Fran, and I went to the Philippines to minister at a Vineyard conference. One evening our Filipino hosts set up over twenty dinner tables end to end with no chairs around them. There were no forks, spoons or knives. An assortment of delicious dishes served as the centerpiece for what they call the Boodle feast. We stood across from each other, ate with our hands and talked.
This tradition was popularized by the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City and is primarily done as a form of fellowship and camaraderie between officers and military personnel, no matter what rank.
A similar practice is common when Filipinos go camping. They take their packed lunch and put it on a table or the ground over some banana leaves and share it with everyone around. The kingdom of God may not be a matter of eating or drinking, but in the Philippines, eating and drinking serves as a wonderful way to break down barriers and build bridges. Hospitality like this is one way we can pursue peace. I think that’s why much of Jesus’ ministry took place over food.
Taken from Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in Our Families, Organizations, and Communities by Rick Love Copyright (c) 2014 p.30 by Rick Love. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Entertainment vs. Hospitality
The entertaining host seeks to elevate herself. And as Martha mentions, it’s a bit selfish. When the guest arrives, the entertainer announces, “Here I am. Come into my beautiful abode and have the honor of partaking of all the wonderful things I’ve spent hours getting done for you. Look at this lavish buffet, the intricate décor, and the wonderful party favors. How fortunate for you to be here and be part of this.”
While I embellish on what a hostess might actually say, we’ve all encountered this attitude once or twice, haven’t we? Maybe we’ve even allowed a similar tone to slip ever so subtly into our own hosting. But when you leave the entertaining host’s house, how do you feel? Remember that, and do the opposite.Hospitality is different. Biblical hospitality offers our best to Him first, understanding that our best to others will then fall into place. It transforms our selfish motives and elevates our guest.
When the hospitable hostess swings wide the door, all her attention focuses outward: “You’re here! I’ve been waiting for you. No one is more important today than you, and I’m thrilled you’ve come.” The posture we assume in hospitality is one that bends low, generously offering our heart to another despite whatever interruption to our own plans or comfort. Extending hospitality is about freely giving of ourselves while granting others the freedom to be themselves. Shifting our focus from us to them removes all unnecessary expectations. No need to worry about what to say or how to act. Just come as you are.
Hospitality is Unnatural
Hospitality, when you get right down to it, is unnatural. It is difficult to place others first, because our inclination is to take care of ourselves first. Hospitality takes courage. It takes a willingness to risk. But as our Lord reminds us, if we only love those who we are sure will love us and welcome those who will welcome us, then we have done little to share the love of God, for as Jesus says, even the heathen do that.
You see, most of us know what true hospitality feels like. It means being received openly, warmly, freely, without any need to prove ourselves. Hospitality makes us feel worthy, because our host assumes we are worthy. This is the kind of hospitality that we have experienced from God, and all that God asks is that we go and do likewise, particularly to “the alien among us.”
Hospitality & Hospitals
Have you ever noticed the similarity between the words “hospitality” and “hospital?” That’s because both developed out of the need for accommodations during the medieval period, specifically when people were traveling. Leslie B. Flynn describes it this way:
Ancient travelers, whether pilgrims or businessmen, fared poorly when venturing beyond their own country. Thus, religious leaders established international guest houses in the fifth century. These havens were called “hospice” from hospes, Latin for “guests.” With the coming of the Crusades, the importance of the hospice increased greatly.
Pilgrims, crusaders, and other travelers found hospices, by this time run by religious orders, the only reputable guest houses of the era. Soon after the Crusades most of these institutions began to specialize in the care of the poor, sick. aged, and crippled. During the fifteenth century, secular interests took over most entertaining of travelers, so the hospital restricted its function to care and treatment of the sick and handicapped. But originally it meant a haven for guests.
“I am Buying Your Soul”
Sometimes hospitality costs something. One of the most powerful illustrations of grace and mercy in all of western literature has to be the great scene between Monseigneur Bienvenu and Jean Valjean in the stirring epic Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.
Jean Valjean, having recently finished serving a long prison sentence for stealing bread (for his starving family), once again finds himself in desperate straits.
With nowhere to go on a rainy evening, he is offered shelter by the Monseigneur Bienvenu. With no money or work prospects, Valjean steals some silver from the parsonage, only to be caught by the local authorities.
Valjean is dragged back to the Monseigneur’s residence to be confronted for his wrongdoing. But instead of confirming the crime, Bienvenu sees the unfortunate event as an opportunity.
It is, with no exaggeration necessary, the opportunity to either condemn a life or to save one.
Employing distinctly atonement language, Bienvenue chooses the latter, and says to the stunned Valjean,
“Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man….Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!”
Stuart Strachan Jr, Source Material from Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, Everyman’s Library, Alfred A. Knopf.
Our Neighbor Hank’s House
As neighbors were texting my turned-off phone about danger at Hank’s house, I was sitting at my desk, praying for Hank. I was praying for Hank’s salvation. And then I noticed it: burly men ducking around the back of my house, wearing orange shirts marked DEA—Drug Enforcement Agency. Serene darkness exploded with the unnatural intrusion of police lights. Yellow tape appeared everywhere—“Crime Scene.” I left my Bible open to Psalm 42 and ran to wake Kent and the children. I grabbed my phone and turned it on. The text messages bounced into life: “What’s going on at Hank’s house? I hear there is a meth lab across the street from you!” What does the conservative, Bible-believing family who lives across the street do in a crisis of this magnitude?
How ought we to think about this? How ought we to live? We could barrack ourselves in the house, remind ourselves and our children that “evil company perverts” (see 1 Cor. 15:33), and, like the good Pharisees that we are always poised to become, thank God that we are not like evil meth addicts. We could surround our home in our own version of yellow crime-scene tape, giving the message that we are better than this, that we make good choices, that we would never fall into this mess. We could surround ourselves with fear: What if the meth lab explodes and takes out my daughter’s bedroom (the room closest to the lab) with it?
We could berate ourselves with criticism: How could we have allowed this meth addict into our hearts and our home? But that, of course, is not what Jesus calls us to do. As neighbors filed into our front yard, which had become front-row seats for an unfolding drama of epic magnitude, I scrambled eggs, put on a big pot of coffee, set out Bibles, and invited them in. Who else but Bible-believing Christians can make redemptive sense of tragedy? Who can see hope in the promises of God when the real, lived circumstances look dire? Who else knows that the sin that will undo me is my own, not my neighbor’s, no matter how big my neighbor’s sin may appear? And where else but a Christian home should neighbors go in times of unprecedented crisis? Where else is it safe to be vulnerable, scared, lost, hopeless?
Refugees: Searching for a Home & Hospitality
In her book Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home, Jen Pollock Michel reflects on the nature of home in a transient age. In this short excerpt, Michel focuses on what life is like without a home:
Fiction isn’t our only witness of home; the front page is. In the most recent European migrant crisis, for example, desperate families, forced by war and poverty, leave home. The tragedy of these asylum seekers isn’t only material loss, although it certainly is not less than that.
When they crowd into rafts and trains, when they walk for days, history heavy on their backs, even when they arrive by plane like the many Syrian refugees now arriving in Canada, they take the future into their hands, hoping to find safety and stability for their children. Sometimes their arrival is cheered by smiling crowds readied for the work of hospitality. Sometimes their assets are legally seized by the government as the price of their welcome.
Stories of Hospitality from Ancient Cultures
A Catholic priest recently told a gathering of friends about a time when he arrived in Israel late on a Friday afternoon, just as everything was about to shut down for the Sabbath. Public transportation was no longer available, and the house where people were expecting him was fifteen miles away. So he picked up his suitcase and started to walk. He did not get far before a family saw him and invited him to spend the Sabbath with them. He accepted their invitation, and they all had a wonderful time. When Saturday evening came, he found his bus and went on his way.
After the priest finished his story, a Jewish friend said that he had a similar story to tell. As a long-haired college student in the late 1960s, he was traveling through Spain. One night, he got off a train in a village that was already asleep. A little frightened, he approached the only lighted place. It turned out to be a monastery, and the monks received him gladly. After his departure, he discovered that they had quietly slipped some coins into his pocket as he slept.
In both of these stories, we get glimpses of ancient traditions sustaining ways of life that shelter and nourish people, ways of life ready to receive strangers who are passing through. The hospitality these two young men received came from communities structured with hospitality in mind. In each of these places, hospitality was more than an individual act of kindness—it was sustained by a way of life.
What would happen in our society today if young men like these were wandering through? Perhaps they would be fortunate and find a safe place to rest. But they, or others not so different from them, might not. For is there not a crisis of hospitality in our society? It is tragically evident in homelessness and widespread hostility to immigrants. But it affects almost everyone in less noticeable ways as well. A stranger smiles, and we cautiously turn away. In our retreat from hospitality, we find that even friends and relatives sit at our tables less often than they used to.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Hospitality. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!