Just Set an Extra Plate

by Jeanne Zornes

I’ll never forget the Luke 14 potluck dinner at the home of my co-worker.

Oh, they didn’t call it that, but it definitely reminded me of the banquet Jesus attended at the home of a prominent religious leader. Luke 14 tells how the other guests arrogantly jockeyed for the places of honor at the table.

Jesus criticized their pride, saying it would be better to invite those who couldn’t reciprocate with an even fancier meal at their homes. This would include people who were poor, or who lived with disabilities (Lk 14:13).

That certainly described my co-worker’s guest list that night.

As we mingled, strangers became friends, even if just for the meal. Plus, the compassion of my co-worker and his wife impacted me in reassessing what “hospitality” really looks like.

A lot of people think “hospitality” involves showing off your décor or cooking skills. But the Greek word for “hospitality” in the New Testament, philoxenia, literally means “brotherly love of strangers.” That type of hospitality focuses on showing Christ’s love.

That perspective has helped me invite people for a meal without thinking I had to prepare a gourmet feast, have the house im-maculate, or be concerned about the “right” guests coming. Often I practiced “extra plate” invitations, like the Sunday my husband invited an 80-year-old widow home after church, not knowing I’d also asked a 30-year-old recent divorcee. And my menu was left-overs!

But they didn’t seem to mind boiled cabbage, warmed-up sausage, and yesterday’s salad stretched with more lettuce.

As my husband helped the widow with her coat before taking her home, she remarked, “It means so much to an old lady like me to be remembered.” The other guest kept remarking how that dinner surpassed any she’d cook herself. They didn’t go home empty-handed, either: our small children gave them drawings for their refrigerators!

As I think back over friendships I’ve cherished, the gift of hospitality marked many.

I was new to town, in my first job, when I met Halcyon at church. This widow, fifty years my senior, immediately invited me home for dinner. She lived on the edge of poverty, but poured riches into my life as she talked about the Bible and what God had done for her. We shared meals for years until I moved away for mission service.

Then I ran into veteran missionaries Milton and Clara, who had big hearts for the single women in their mission. Clara’s “just-come-because” dinners brought us together to enjoy each other and the simple, delicious cuisine of Clara’s farm upbringing.

A few years later, my parents died just months apart when I was 31, interrupting my courses at graduate school. When I returned after settling their affairs, Jinny, an unmarried college librarian, learned of my deep grief and reached out to me. Several times she and her housemate Marty had me over for a no-frills dinner or pancake brunch, with jams or vegetables from their big garden. Often they sent me back to my college apartment with fresh produce.

They told me they decided to pool their resources and buy a modest home together, rather than live single and separately. That way, they could practice hospitality to missionaries, foreign students, and people experiencing hardship.

“We share what we have,” one told me, “and that’s what the Lord wants.”

Dinner ready? Got an extra plate to set out?


Jeanne Zornes is an author and speaker from Wenatchee, Washington.

Reprinted from Purpose

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