The generosity of relational hospitality
One of my most distinct memories as a child of immigrant parents was that while we had our own network of family and friends from the same cultural background, there were many social networks we weren’t able to gain access to. It seemed there were always networks of people who were more established, connected and resourced than ours.
Generosity in relationships, at its heart, is an expression of relational hospitality and welcome. It’s a way to bridge the disparity between those who are more and less socially connected. Hospitality is a way to be a friend and neighbor to anyone, regardless of social standing, and while it often means opening up homes and sharing a meal, it also means sharing relational resources and a sense of social connectedness. It’s welcoming strangers as friends and acquaintances as family.
This is why, when we read biblical instruction on the practice of hospitality, particularly towards the disenfranchised and marginalized, the issue is never simply a lack of financial resources or a place to sleep. The issue is often a lack of social resources. For aliens and immigrants, there was no sense of citizenship or belonging. For orphans and widows, there was a loss of inheritance in the form of land and family. It’s for this reason that redemption in the gospel is often described as an invitation to be connected and belong.
1 Peter 2 reminds us that though Christians are being built into a spiritual house, we are also “foreigners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). Likewise, Paul writes, “you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens …” (Ephesians 2:19). It was the experience of being an outsider, who is brought in to the people of God, that is the basis for the Bible’s call to relational generosity and hospitality. “And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:19.
So how can we practice this kind of relational generosity? Because New York City is a place of great diversity and mobility, there are many ways! Here are three:
- Practice conversation. New York is a place of ethnic, economic and cultural diversity, which means we are always encountering people who are different than us and may have very different beliefs than we do. Conversation opens up ways for us to connect to people, even if we have very different experiences of life or views about the world. Particularly in a city where relationships are often based on economic transactions or where we might not talk to people we live near and see everyday, conversation turns those relationship into ones of mutual concern and friendship. Simply saying to a familiar neighbor, “I’ve seen you all these years, but have never introduced myself” or to a new neighbor, “I’ve never seen you in the building before, welcome to the building!” can create a relationship based on conversation and relational welcome.
- Practice connection. When I moved to New York, I remember thinking that New York was a big place, that I didn’t know anyone and I had no idea how to find a good restaurant. My roommate showed hospitality to me simply by introducing me to his friends, inviting me to his community group and telling me where to get the best bagels in the neighborhood! He was in a position of greater social connectedness and familiarity with the City and helped me take first steps towards calling New York home. Inviting people into relational networks can be the first step for many to find family and home in the City. Sharing our friends and awareness of the City can make New York a more inviting home.
- Come to the Table. The Lord’s Table is the greatest emblem of biblical hospitality and relational welcome, because it reminds us of Jesus’ supreme act of relational generosity to make us welcome. In His willingness to be separated from the Father, He gave us access to the Father. What the Lord’s Table reminds us is that access to the God of the universe is not based on social standing or moral achievement. It is based solely on our acknowledgement that we are hungry and thirsty for connection to God and that Jesus Christ welcomes us to Him. The more we are immersed in the story of a God who welcomed the stranger, foreigner, and alien, the more we will extend that welcome to anyone around us, for their flourishing and for the good of the city.
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