2 Kings 4:8-17 (NRSV)
One day Elisha was passing through Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to have a meal. So whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for a meal. She said to her husband, “Look, I am sure that this man who regularly passes our way is a holy man of God. Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that he can stay there whenever he comes to us.”
One day when he came there, he went up to the chamber and lay down there. He said to his servant Gehazi, “Call the Shunammite woman.” When he had called her, she stood before him. He said to him, “Say to her, Since you have taken all this trouble for us, what may be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?” She answered, “I live among my own people.” He said, “What then may be done for her?” Gehazi answered, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.” He said, “Call her.” When he had called her, she stood at the door. He said, “At this season, in due time, you shall embrace a son.” She replied, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not deceive your servant.”
The woman conceived and bore a son at that season, in due time, as Elisha had declared to her.
One of my favorite seminary classes was on the subject of hospitality. Hospitality is much more than setting out tea and cookies—it is a powerful theological concept.
Today’s story wonderfully illustrates scriptural hospitality. Simple acts of caring and concern tap into the ever-flowing grace of God, and lives are changed for the better.
And yes, “simple” is an important part of godly hospitality. Note that the wealthy woman didn’t build a house for Elisha after she saw him passing through her town regularly. She began by feeding him, and then she moved on to establishing for him a small rooftop shelter furnished with just a few basic items.
Keeping hospitality simple takes away the pressures that so often can keep us from being open and welcoming to others. Hospitality is much easier when we’re not worried about our stuff or how our actions will be judged.
Hospitality also makes possible new relationships where remarkable events can happen. There is no indication the wealthy Shunammite woman thought she might gain something from her hospitality, but out of it came a blessing money could not buy, the child she and her husband wanted.
The blessings from such encounters aren’t always so dramatic, but they can be uplifting. A few years ago, I was traveling alone to Indianapolis, and I checked the Airbnb listings. I wound up renting the most modest arrangement available—what was essentially a walk-in closet with a cot, and access to a bathroom, for $30 a night. I thought of Elisha’s little room as I lay there.
The room may have been tiny, but I got to know a couple of wonderful Indiana University grad students, one of whom owned the old house, which he was renovating. Both students were from other countries and wanted to know about me, and I got to hear about the research they were doing.
One was studying music’s effects on brain waves, with a possible benefit for autistic children, and I heard a miniature concert of the work he had done. The other was exploring third-world economic policies. I think I enjoyed my brief time with them more than the convention I attended. I felt I was in the presence of two young adults who could change the world for the better.
Hospitality is about new relationships and the hope they bring, and what church doesn’t want those? I’ve barely touched on the subject here. For those wanting to explore the concept further, a great place to start is Dr. Christine Pohl’s “Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition.“
Studying hospitality now will ready us for the day when the pandemic is behind us. People are craving simple, genuine relationships and the blessings that flow from them.
Lord, guide us in our understanding of how to reach out to others, making ourselves available through acts of kindness and openness. Amen.