Written by J. Bradley Wigger
One of my favorite discussions to have with parents is based in Matthew 25. Jesus says,
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.
The passage defines hospitality and sets the course for the church’s mission around the world and in our streets where there is so much need. Feeding, welcoming, clothing, tending, visiting. The surprising part of the passage is that the righteous do not even realize what they have done. “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food…?” And, according to the Scripture, the answer is:
Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.
A remarkable claim. Feeding, welcoming, clothing, tending, visiting the least of these is to practice hospitality with Jesus himself. Somehow, in those righteous acts, in those ordinary moments of kindness and care, something holy is happening. The sacred is served.
In our discussions, I invite parents to consider their own everyday lives with children, especially young children. Caring and feeding, watching and holding, welcoming and soothing, delighting and helping, showing interest and concern—in short, loving. Such mundane moments of hospitality, if we believe Scripture, are shot through with holiness.
The reason I enjoy exploring the passage with parents is that they act exactly as the righteous do in the passage. “I never thought about that!” I hear over and over. “I’m just taking care of my kids,” they say. “I’m feeding Jesus?” Nervous laughter fills the air with such an overwhelming thought, contemporary versions of “Lord, when was it that we saw you?” But I insist, yes, to feed, welcome, clothe, tend, visit the least of these—even in our own families—is to extend hospitality to Jesus, is to welcome the sacred, is to feed love.
Holy hospitality is born in the details of living. In the everyday acts of parenting, among the mundane chores, the rituals and routines, the tears of sorrow and smiles of joy, our children learn what hospitality looks like, what it feels like. As they grow in hospitable homes, they too learn the ways of love, extending hospitality into a world and in the streets where there is so much need.
J. BRADLEY WIGGER teaches Christian education and childhood studies at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary and speaks frequently on the subject of faithful parenting. He writes for academic and general audiences alike, including the picture book Thank You, God, a book for families, Together We Pray, and one for parents, The Power of God at Home. He has been named a 2018 Henry Luce III Fellow in Theology to study the religious imagination of children.