Hospitality in difficult times O ne of the most overlooked passages of the Old Testament book of Nehemiah exemplifies, profoundly, this idea about indiscriminate hospitality in the midst of difficult times. The story is tucked discreetly in chapter 5. After the Exile, the people of Jerusalem wanted to be proud of their hometown again. They began to rebuild the city brought to rubble over the years under enemy control. But the reconstruction work took its toll. Despair was heard in the voices of the builders. They were without food because of the pay-less work, and all of this was compounded by a famine. These were hard economic times. For Nehemiah’s day, it was the Great Depression. So what did Nehemiah do about all of this despair? He spread a feast. He made every day a Thanks- giving meal. Nehemiah, a layman who was the contractor for the wall and was now the governor of Jerusalem, set a table for the hungry. And at his table eating supper with him were all kinds of folks. He even invited those from other nations to come to his table, to enjoy the finest of Israel’s fare. Nehemiah didn’t have to do this. He had every right as governor to eat alone, or with just a few of the more powerful men of the city. But he didn’t. Nehemiah’s banquet table was spread not for the few but for the many. The invitation went out for hundreds to come and eat, to put their feet under the governor’s table. The wall wasn’t done. Times were hard. People were struggling to make ends meet, tightening their belts. But in the midst of these difficult days with long hours of working and little discretionary money, a supper table was set for them. Maybe when Nehemiah died and entered the presence of God, in the new Jerusalem, God gave him the nod by recalling not the wall building but the meal servings. The trowels had been set down in Jerusalem, and the mortar was drying each of those evenings. The bills were piling up for the regular wall-building people like us. And in my father’s old King James Version Bible it says that “the bondage was heavy upon this people” (Nehemiah 5:18). And there was a kind leader with a heart for God who gave hope through a meal. A table of grace A meal created from our grandmother’s recipe or grilled on the hibachi is a demonstration of kindness to people who are alone or who are on their way to who knows where. The meal is such a common biblical image that it beckons us to think of our table literally as a table of redemption, where healing occurs for the downcast, where joy is shared in Christ, and where the gospel is modeled to the unbeliever. As more and more followers of Jesus make their kitchens or dining rooms or back patios places where the table is a table of grace, we are following the example of Jesus. Eating with people is an activ- ity we see Jesus doing frequently, with the sinners and the saints. This is where conversations take place, vulnerability in sharing a meal with those who may not be the first we think about when we want to invite someone over for supper. I want to be among the busy people of God who decelerate enough to be kind in spirit, with an invitation to sit at our tables, to eat our food, and to be an encouragement while passing the salt. In a world that is increasingly skeptical of Christians and stereotyping from a distance, we have to restore our approach to the Jesus way, calling us to a more winsome, savvy, and mouth- watering articulation of the gospel. The path to being heard by those who do not know Christ sometimes begins over an authentic dinner conversation. Ĩ 30 WWW.AGRM.ORG JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2018 I want to be among the busy people of God who decelerate enough to be kind in spirit, with an invitation to sit at our tables, to eat our food, and to be an encouragement while passing the salt.