BY ADRIENNE HEIN
Next to the Alice Statler Auditorium on Cornell’s campus, you will find this quote: “Life Is Service – the one who progresses is the one who gives his fellow men a little more – a little better service.”
I find myself near this auditorium often, calculating net present value, building excel models to measure the effect of restaurant loyalty programs, listening to Royal Caribbean executives tell me they remember what it was like to be in my shoes, and learning the twelve steps of bread-making. Yes, I study at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration.
I had initially applied to the program with zero experience in the industry but with a love for hospitality. This love of welcome paired with my undying dream to professionally peak as a waitress (there is something magical to me about bringing someone a plate) led me to submit a simple 500-word admissions essay in October 2015, and I have been wrapped up in the world of hotels ever since.
During my freshman year, I had doubt after doubt of whether or not I was in the right place. My curriculum was built around a variety of introductory level courses that, while diverse within the industry, all seemed to center around savvy pricing or economic profitability, just in different ways. I realized the popularity of investment banking, financial planning, and real estate among students, and found the percentage of graduates that went into customer-facing hospitality operations surprisingly small.
I became jaded, finding that the sprawling world of hospitality and tourism was largely for those who can spend, are comfortable, or are looking for something exciting and new. The luxury-seeking client with bottomless pockets seemed of utmost value, and if you couldn’t pay to begin with, you weren’t on the customer radar.
I cried out to God, wondering if the “Life is Service” motto that hung next to our auditorium really meant to say “Life is Serving the Rich.” And as someone who wants to fold napkins as a way to love the penniless and the CEO’s alike, I had a hard time reconciling the path that I was on. He led me to dig into scripture, where I found that the Bible narrative is littered with hospitality from Genesis to Revelation.
Jesus speaks clearly in Luke 14 about whom we are to serve: “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”1
Woah. Not your typical guest list. And get this: Jesus himself gave up endless riches in heaven to take the not-so-glamorous form of a servant, washing the feet, healing the diseases and feeding the masses of this exact target market: those that could not repay him.
He held dinner parties for the hated tax-collector and the filthy outcast. He served barrels of the choicest wine at weddings, pro-bono. Needless to say, he is the greatest host this world has ever seen.
But these acts of service only point to Jesus’s ultimate act of hospitality, when he himself promises to prepare rooms in his Father’s house for those who believe in him. (For those of you that have worked in a housekeeping department, your knees are growing weak.) He even talks about eternity at a banquet for which he has set the table. And he never forgets which side the fork goes on.
What about the guest list? It looks a whole lot like the one he describes in the book of Luke. Now, for my heart of hearts that loves a proper feast, imagine how it palpitates at the thought of a dinner party where every tribe, tongue, nation, socioeconomic status, physical ability, and level of literacy is represented. This is the kind of invitation we get to extend, the one where everyone has a seat at the table.
In closing, we have seen what radical welcome looks like in the person and promises of Jesus Christ, and we have seen whom it is we are called to welcome. For those who work in the world of hospitality, this is an incredible gift. So that when we serve in our cafes, our motels, and our messy apartments, we can look to the Life That Really Was Service.
1 Luke 14:12-14