by Mark Slaughter
Similarly, beyond thoroughly enjoying this professor’s teaching, I was drawn to his bright mind, quick wit, and heart for evangelism and people. We were so excited and honored being invited into their home! We could feel our relationships growing deeper. I can still picture him greeting us at the door in his quintessential bow tie and welcoming us into their home.
Being invited into someone’s home (and life) is an honor. But have you ever invited yourself into someone’s home for dinner? Well, Jesus did in the familiar yet surprising story of Zacchaeus found in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 19:1-10).
Zacchaeus lived in Jericho, a major place for Romans to collect taxes on goods entering or leaving Judea. As a chief tax collector, Zacchaeus would have agreed to pay Rome a predetermined amount of money over a specified number of years; however, he could keep anything above what he owed Rome. Hiring others to stop people passing through and collect taxes from them, apparently Zacchaeus over-collected frequently and became very wealthy at others’ expense.
As a result, fellow Jews would have hated Zacchaeus immensely, seeing him as a traitor who extracted money to support the Romans occupying his own country.
Yet Zacchaeus was curious about Jesus, who offered true life beyond how he and others defined himself…greedy, untrustworthy, and powerful. In order to see over the crowd, he climbed a tree. Since the flat roofs on houses were used as living space, most people in his situation would have gone onto a roof. Perhaps Zacchaeus knew that no one would have invited him onto their roof, since he was so badly hated and ostracized.
But Jesus showed hospitality to Zacchaeus when he looked at him and said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5).
How did Jesus show hospitality to Zacchaeus?
- He saw him! He didn’t pass by; He paid attention and noticed him.
- He called him by name! He didn’t see him as a role (chief tax collector), but as a person. He treated him with dignity and worth.
- He invited himself for dinner! He was communicating, “You are loved…radically!”
Saying that He must stay at Zacchaeus’ house essentially conveyed, “Hurry down, I must eat with you today. I want to be with you!” Remember that Jews had several restrictions affecting with whom they could eat. And in that culture, like many cultures today, eating together was more than just food. It showed a significant relationship. This radical love broke through divisions, hatred, loneliness, and greed… revealing God’s goodness and power!
Imagine how Jesus’ love must have penetrated deeply in Zacchaeus’ soul, tapping into longings for love, acceptance, and belonging. Zacchaeus came down immediately, welcomed Jesus gladly, and was powerfully transformed by God’s power. He even acknowledged his wrong in cheating people, became generous, and freely restored those he cheated.
When we think about hospitality and evangelism, we usually first assume it involves inviting people into our homes (which is a good idea). But what if we also took initiative in following promptings of the Holy Spirit, and intentionally spent time on other people’s turfs… their homes, backyards, and places of work?
I love hanging out in our backyard with our neighbors, but I also really enjoy being in their yards, homes, and offices. They are comfortable in their familiar space. And if I pay attention (like Jesus did with Zacchaeus), I may learn more about them and even what we have in common.
Reverse hospitality tangibly demonstrates radical love and breaks down barriers and defenses. In the offices or homes of others, I see what’s important to them—achievements or pictures of family, friends, adventures, and memories.
My wife and I moved into a new neighborhood two months ago. Tonight, we went to a costume party at a neighbor’s house. My wife was in a full-body turkey costume, and I went as a butcher (playing off our last name of Slaughter) trying to catch the turkey! In the midst of all the food and fun, I saw the host’s prize guitars on display and I had some timely spiritual conversations… all while building more trust.
If hospitality is opening ourselves to others, then perhaps this week we could intentionally pay attention and see the people God has around us. And perhaps we can take initiative to spend time with other people in their homes, yards, and offices as carriers of God’s radical and costly love. In Jesus Christ may we bring hospitality into our broken and hate-filled world, which longs for so much more.
Mark Slaughter (@MarkASlaughter) is an InterVarsity evangelist and national facilitator of Emerging Generations for the Mission America Coalition. He is a former pastor who is passionate about empowering the next generation of evangelism leaders and raising the evangelism temperature. Learn more: markslaughter.org.