Generosity and Hospitality: Why Women are the Model

An apple pie, baked with love for family and friends. Sharing meals is often a
beautiful sign of hospitality and generosity. 


Scripture:

 2Kings 4:8  One day Elisha was passing through Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to have a meal. So whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for a meal. 9She said to her husband, “Look, I am sure that this man who regularly passes our way is a holy man of God. 10Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that he can stay there whenever he comes to us.”

Observation:

How easy it is to overlook this woman, the Shunammite, whom we are told was a “wealthy woman,” or as other translations say, “a great woman,” a woman fearing sin,” or a “woman eminent for piety before God.” What’s interesting is that we are not told that her husband is wealthy, and this can lead us to all kinds of consideration. She may have inherited her own wealth. At the same time, her husband may have had a great estate and she may have been the one who diligently managed the household, being trusted with the family’s resources. She was obviously a person of influence, probably in the community, but most certainly in her own home. This woman became a patron of Elisha, providing a nice place for him to stay when he traveled through their region. She could have easily created a temporary corner of her roof for him, but the description of what she builds reveals her generosity, kindness, and hospitality. 

Application:

As I searched the commentaries today I was struck by how little is said about the Shunammite woman. Most of the writers are focused on Elisha and his ministry, or assume that she only has resources because of her husband. Interestingly, there were times when women were the inheritors of fortunes. Throughout church history we discover, over and again, that it is the women who are mentioned as being generous and hospitable. Maybe that’s because they are responsible for the household, or maybe it’s because there is a way that God has been at work in the women’s lives that they have become the benefactors of God’s work in this world. Jesus had wealthy women who financially supported his ministry. Joanna is probably one of the most well-known, and stands in contrast to the rich young ruler who goes away sad because he can’t give all to Christ. 

Historically, the mission organizations of churches have been founded and run by women. In the last 150 years women have raised the majority of the money for missions. If you track the moment that women’s mission organizations were placed under a denominational infrastructure and the women were given less autonomy in fund-raising, the amount of giving drastically decreased. (See “Sisters and Saints: Women and American Religion”) In some cases, this change became the demise of the mission enterprise, altogether. 

A recent study at Stanford (https://inequality.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/media/_media/working_papers/x-Gender_Gap_Poverty_Relief.pdf) talks about the gender gap in charitable giving and believes it has something to do with empathy. If that is the case, then maybe there’s something that we can learn from the women we read about in the Bible. Maybe they are there as poignant reminders of God’s intention when it comes to hospitality and generosity. In another passage from this weeks’ text we read the young girl who was taken captive but shared the good news about Elisha with her master. She practiced hospitality, even in an extremely uncomfortable situation. 

God’s nature calls us to participate in the generosity and hospitality found in the Triune God. It is in God that we find all the characteristics of humanity, both male and female. It may be that we have sometimes overlooked those in the word, and in the world, who don’t fit the template of God which we may have created ourselves. All the fullness of God, and all of humanity, are to be reflected in what we do here on this earth. Maybe we do have something to learn about generosity and hospitality from those obscure women found in the Bible, and even in our own church’s history.

Prayer:

Open our eyes to see those who are so easy to overlook. Amen.

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