In order to understand it, we need to start with bread. Bread? Yup!
In Biblical times, bread was thinner and crisper than our bread today, which brought about the term “breaking bread.” It signified sharing fellowship at a meal, or as it was called, the bread of fellowship.
It was one’s sacred duty of hospitality (called the sacred law of hospitality) to offer bread, give lodging, and protect any traveler that came to one’s door, treating him as a guest.
If the homeowner and the guest broke bread together, this bound them together by the strongest ties of friendship, as in covenant, and was confirmed occasionally by the giving of gifts. This was a pledge of reconciliation and peace and would descend to their heirs, for it was in perpetuity.
If the guest declined the offer, it meant, in essence, that the host’s bread was unfit for use, which violated the sacred law of hospitality and contained sever penalties.
In Chechnya, every family has a special guest room that is always kept ready for a visitor. No one is allowed to use this room. Food is always available to serve a guest if he or she should appear.
In the Middle East, if someone knocks on your door, you are obligated to let them in, to feed them, give them a place to sleep, and they can stay as long as they like and you cannot kick them out!
When Jesus sent out the disciples, He commanded them to take no bread or money with them, so that they would depend solely on the hospitality and acts of kindness of others and make covenant friends.
Therefore, if the disciples had rejected the hospitality offered them by others, it would have been considered rude or an offense, hindering their efforts to spread the gospel.
Also, Jesus gave them instructions on how to respond to the cities that did not receive them in hospitality, “When you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!” (Matt. 10:14-15 NKJV)
If they refused the disciples who were in partnership with Jesus, consequently, they refused Jesus. This was serious stuff!
Concerning this same sense of hospitality, Jesus spoke to the disciples of that future day of separating the sheep from the goats, “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” (Matt. 25:34-40 NKJV)
(‘Stranger’ also means a guest-friend, bound by ties of hospitality. ‘Took’ or ‘take in’ means among other things, to entertain hospitably, to bring one into your house for hospitality.)
Jesus continued, “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” (Matt. 25: 42-43 NIV) You received Me not; you did not receive me in hospitality.
This should be a wake-up call for us. Hospitality is more than having a potluck supper for our Bible study group.
Paul urges us, “When God’s children are in need, be the one to help them out. And get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner or, if they need lodging, for the night.” (Rom. 12:13 TLB)
May you receive others to break bread in the spirit of hospitality.