Unhurried Hospitality

Jonathan Pielmayer, Unsplash

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread. Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree. (Genesis 18:6-8)

On a typical day, while sitting in his tent during the hottest part of the afternoon, Abraham espies three visitors approaching. In contrast to many of us today (who hastily pull the curtains when we see unknown visitors approaching), he pleads with them to stay and rest a moment. Then he asks Sarah to bake some fresh bread while he prepares a calf for the ad hoc feast.

I am not a butcher (haven’t even field dressed a deer) and don’t know how to bake. But I have a sneaking suspicion that preparing a calf takes more time than microwaving popcorn. And even assuming Sarah had already milled her grain into flour, fresh-baked bread is a time-intensive labor of love. At a moment’s notice, Abraham and Sarah have completely rearranged their schedules for the day and committed themselves to hours of preparation—all for people they don’t even know! They are practicing unhurried hospitality. They have made themselves available to God.

Because you know where I’m going with this, I know the excuses are already mounting in your mind—and they’re valid, to an extent. Thanks to hotels and Airbnbs, out-of-town guests don’t need to crash in some random person’s house these days. We can buy meat and pre-baked bread at Aldi, so that saves us a few hours. And—maybe most importantly of all—they didn’t have much to do back then (apart from, you know, weaving their own cloth to make their own clothes, etc.). They probably didn’t even have a calendar app on their smartphone. Abraham was just sitting in his tent that afternoon. He didn’t have to take the kids to soccer practice or piano lessons. (These were dark times, the days before soccer.) Like a true Luddite, he didn’t own a TV or computer, so there was no temptation to binge the new show or scroll through his news feed.

I’m having a bit of fun, of course, but there’s a serious question underneath this: Are our lives better or worse because we have all those things now? Are our lives richer because we have more activities to choose from or poorer because we no longer have time for people (strangers, friends, even family)? I wonder how many divine appointments (and keep in mind, in this case, Abraham actually entertained God himself!) we’ve missed because we were rushing to the next event or didn’t look up from our phone in time to see it.

What does Hebrews tell us? “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (That last part is a reference to our story in Genesis 18.) To love is to show hospitality—to open our homes, yes, but more so to open our lives. To make space in our day. To take time to prepare a meal. To practice unhurried hospitality.

2 Replies to “Unhurried Hospitality”

  1. We are leaving the Dominican Republic today after 2 weeks. After 2 conferences we were driven 4 hours across country with 12 Peruvians (who happened to be friends of ours from when we lived there 30 years ago) to the home of some believers, the husband of whom had been at the conference with us. The women of the church we had never been to stood in the driveway and sang and clapped, “With great joy and great pleasure we are happy today to have you come again, welcome!” Then they served us a delicious sancocho that the women had spent most of the day preparing. After that, they figured out how to divide us up to spend the night, fed us breakfast in our host homes and took us to church. After that we all had lunch together again and we were driven to our hotel and the others to the airport. All of this for guests they didn’t know we’re coming until they met us at the conference!

  2. I remember clearly my first day at El Camino in late July, 2001. The cabbies had planned a strike — after the city’s failure to respond to the many taxi drivers who were being murdered, five in one night as I recall — and blocked the main arterials locking the city down in five minutes. Beth had 35 teachers and staff on Calle 222, nine kilometers from Maranta where she and many other ECA people lived but 30 or more kilometers from where most of the staff lived.

    Beth got on the phone and, in no time, had 15 families ready to take all of us in. The hosting families had never seen any of us in their lives and, although they were middle-class Colombians, most didn’t have cupboards, pantries and fridges full of food. Yet they shared what they had with us, called neighbors for extra bedding and towels, and contributed to the taco salad buffet Beth pulled together to feed all of us.

    A crisis was averted by Colombian hospitality, it’s no wonder I love Colombia so much.

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