British theologian Krish Kandiah opens not only the Scriptures to discover God’s work of restoration, he also opens his home.
He and his wife have seven children, some of them fostered and adopted, and it is this full family life that dynamically informs his work of Biblical interpretation and faith-informed discipleship. In this reflection, he steps us through the interplay between God’s work of restoration and hospitality as the defining feature of the children of God.
Ultimately, God’s mission in the world is for the restoration of relationships. We are called to have a relationship with God, as beings made in his image. We are called to have a relationship with others, because it’s not good for us to be alone, even in the Garden of Eden. We are called to have a relationship with the rest of the created order, to tend it and cultivate it. And we are also called to have a good relationship with ourselves, to love our neighbour as we love our own self. All four of these relationships only make sense together.
Sometimes, when the gospel is articulated, the relationship between us and Jesus is put forward as the most important relationship. But that isn’t the way the Bible sets it out. There is an integration in Christian discipleship that says a person needs to live in all four of these dimensions all of the time. This is what it means to be sure of who we are: to live with all four dimensions going on at once.
It is as we offer hospitality that relationship is restored. Because God is the restorer of relationships.
Peter is a good example (from John 21). Jesus says to him, if you love me you will also serve the church. Now Peter can do this because he is a restored person, he has been forgiven by Jesus face-to-face. And Jesus sends him out into the world to do that same thing.
There is a beautiful symmetry between Peter’s three betrayals and his being given three opportunities to express his love for God. The betrayals are not just forgotten or ignored, they’re confronted and dealt with.
And what a wonderful picture of God’s grace we see, that the one who messed it all up, the one who crumbled under pressure, is the one who Jesus wants to use as a leader. And the endorsement of leadership is out of a framework that is loving. “Because you love me, I want you to feed my lambs, tend my sheep”. Peter’s ministry is an overflowing of receiving love from God.
In the third restoration, Jesus says: “follow me”. That’s interesting because our leadership is not just inspired and commissioned by Jesus, it’s shaped by Jesus. So we are called to lead in a Jesus-type way, a restored way. And for Peter, it will lead him to die in a very literal Christlike way. He is going to be crucified and so Peter will literally walk in the footsteps of Jesus.
And so the Jesus-shaped life, the ministry journey, is embedded in the story of Peter’s restoration.
This whole conversation happens over breakfast. Food, within the gospel story, is so often the environment where most of the significant conversations take place. All four gospel accounts are really strong on this. Eating and the preparation of food is such a leveller. It doesn’t matter if you are a Pharisee or the woman at the well or a Centurion. We all need to eat. And it’s in that environment that that teaching happens.
In Luke’s gospel, the equivalent passage to Peter’s restoration happens on the Emmaus road (Luke 23). The disheartened disciples think it’s all over, and they’re going back to their home town thinking that the Messiah failed to deliver. A stranger comes along and he goes as if he’s carrying on his journey.
They invite him to come in and then they give him, as the guest, the honour of breaking the bread and saying the prayer. And it’s as he breaks the bread that ‘boom’, their eyes are opened. How is that? It’s because hospitality is the whole key to discipleship, to relationship.
It also happened with Abraham (Genesis 18). One day, he receives a visit from three strangers. And we know, because it’s a farce-type situation, that it’s God, but Abraham doesn’t know that it’s God. So Abraham is up and out of his tent and he begs these guys to come in and he totally under-promises and overdelivers.
He says to them, “just have a morsel to eat and a drop of water” and as soon as they’re in he asks for a calf to be killed. You know that’s a lot of meat for three people.
He’s totally over-provided. And in the context of him offering hospitality, it is revealed that this is God.
Basically, Abraham is being such an incredible host that now he knows that it’s God, he probably wouldn’t have changed anything, if he’d had the chance. He’s given his complete, full best. So the mindset of how you treat the stranger is an expression of how you feel about God. There it is right there, from Genesis 18 to Hebrews 13:2 “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” And in the middle of those two there is Matthew 25.
Here, Jesus outlines the differentiator of who is in the Kingdom and who isn’t. “I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was a stranger, I was naked and you welcomed me.” Here, we have hospitality, as the defining feature of genuine disciples. It was always clear that you are not saved by doing those things – otherwise Jesus didn’t need to die on the cross. But having been saved, having received the hospitality and grace of God and being invited into his family, hospitality becomes the defining feature of who we are. Hospitality becomes the family likeness, the defining trait, the indicator of those who are in the Kingdom of God.
Because it is as we offer hospitality that relationship is restored. Because God is the restorer of relationships. You can trace that back to the beatitude: “blessed are the peacemakers for they will be known as children of God”. Those who bring shalom, who bring restoration, do the family business.
The act of hospitality invites the world, the stranger, the last of these to experience a little bit of shalom right now. Because that’s what the people of God do.