“Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9)
Elisha and the Shunammite Woman – Part I – Hospitality
When our children were little they loved staying in hotels. It didn’t matter if we were there overnight or for an extended vacation. One of the things they looked forward to the most was getting a break from their daily chores. It was nice for me to have time off from work and chores, too.
I have a friend who has always found hotel living fascinating. Like my children, she enjoyed staying at hotels when she was a little girl. But, she took her passion a step further and studied hospitality in college.
She gets excited whenever I ask her about her work. She often tells me that she is in the business of making people feel welcomed and comfortable. I like that definition. It strips away any and all unreasonable expectations and provides a way for her staff to excel in their customer service. She strives to create an experience that is accommodating, friendly, and warm.
When we think about it, the Bible is filled with examples of hospitality. One example that intrigues me is found in II Kings 4:8-10. It occurs between the prophet Elisha and the Shunammite Woman.
When I read the story, I find myself reflecting on my friend’s view of hospitality. It’s obvious that this woman went above and beyond any concept of hospitality that I’ve had. I’m fascinated by the brief account of her welcoming the prophet into her home.
The Shunammite Woman was a wealthy, prominent citizen of Shunem, a village in the tribe of Issachar, north of Jezreel (Joshua 19:18). This is the same place where the Philistines set up camp when they came against King Saul (I Samuel 28:4).
She must have been observant, because she noticed that Elisha visited her city often. So, one day, she made the decision to offer him a meal (II Kings 4:8-9). She willingly opened her home to the prophet and fed him. She saw a need and met it, without seeking anything in return.
I imagine that the atmosphere in her home was peaceful, welcoming, and friendly because Elisha began to visit her for meals whenever he came to town (II Kings 4:8).
After a while, she wanted to provide an area for the prophet to stay with her whenever he returned. She mentioned the idea to her husband and they built a room in their home for Elisha. Now, the prophet had his own space whenever he came to town. I’m amazed at the woman’s compassion and selfless desire to make life easier for Elisha.
I’d like to think I have the capacity to be open to serving someone in need, but as I consider this woman, I’m not so sure my level of care would measure up. After all, it’s easier for me to make a donation, than to have someone stay in my home and become an intimate part of my life whenever they’re in town. Can you imagine that?
But this woman had a heart for others. She went out of her way to make sure Elisha was cared for. Her actions reveal her character. She must have been gracious, discreet, courageous, and friendly; willing to cultivate new relationships; operating from a servant’s heart; and flexible with her time,
Can I say the same? Am I willing to invest valuable time on a new relationship without seeking any mutual benefit in return? Am I able to be considerate and keep my guest’s idiosyncrasies private? Am I compassionate enough to even see of the needs of others, or am I so consumed with my own challenges that I don’t even consider what someone else is going through?
The Shunammite Woman makes me think that hospitality is often an extension of our lives. Just as I’d know my guest’s private issues, my own weaknesses and challenges would be on display. Do I have the courage to allow that to happen?
It takes wisdom and discernment to open our hearts and become available to comfort and encourage others. In this time of digital communication, making the effort to host a guest could seem pointless. But if we truly want to demonstrate Christ-like love, we have to think about others.
We are instructed to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) and not to get tired when we are doing good things for others (Galatians 6:9-10). I want to be more open because I never know when the person I help is part of a divine mission (Hebrews 13:2).
I want anyone who visits me to come away feeling replenished. I hope the atmosphere in my home will always be inviting and serene, a place where everyone is received with love and treated like members of my family.
Something we have to remember is that the small gestures sometimes have the biggest impact – a smile, a cold glass of water, the availability to pray with someone, the willingness to listen. Hospitality starts with the attitude of our hearts, a desire to spread God’s love, right where we are.
The Shunammite Woman looked out for Elisha without expecting anything in return. Yet, her willingness to reach out to the prophet, welcome him into her home, and meet his needs, resulted in blessings she couldn’t imagine.