Adding Chairs to the Table
Hospitality is, so says John Pattison and Chris Smith, at the heart of what it means to be a Christian community. In saying this,they don't mean that we should make sure we put out our best silver and china each week at coffee hour. No, true hospitality is demonstrated through inclusion. They turn on its head Jesus' parable of the great banquet in Luke 14:15-24. In the parable a dinner host sends out invites. Everyone sends their regrets, so the host sends out his servants to bring in as many people from the highways and byways to fill the seats -- so that if the original invitees reconsider there won't be room. This sounds rather negative and exclusive. But they offer this take, which I think is quite illuminating.
Christians spend too much time "deciding" who can't be invited at the dinner party. In contrast, we believe it's our responsibility and privilege as followers of Jesus to add chairs to the table, not take them away, almost compelling the Host to make more room as we eagerly spread the good news of God's abundant hospitality among our neighbors. Jesus as Jesus frequented the meals and parties of his neighbors, we too should make it a priority to eat and relax often with our neighbors. (Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus,, p. 197).
Hospitality is an act of inclusion. The Lord's Table is often a place of theological exclusion. It is also a place where boundaries are placed so that those not like us are kept out. But the call of Jesus would seem to open more room at the Table.
As the two authors not "what made the hospitality of the early Christian church distinct in its time was that it went out of its way to include people who couldn't possibly reciprocate" (p. 196). Now, that's true hospitality! So, who is it that we need to add a chair for?