Due to so many of you wanting to think this through in a more self-reflective way I want to offer a daily post that captures the core of what we discussed yesterday. Today I begin with a sketch of hospitality in the Hebrew Scriptures and how it frames hospitality in the Christian Scriptures.
In ancient Israel, hospitality was more than a demonstration of good manners, warm milk and pleasant conversation. Hospitality was a moral institution upon which all pillars of social order rested and grew out of the harsh desert and nomadic existence led by the people of Israel. The biblical customs of welcoming the weary traveler and of receiving the stranger (ger) stands at the center of hospitality in the Jewish tradition, so much so that the law of Moses consecrated it as a way of life. They were to care for the stranger by tending to their whole person–physically, socially, emotionally–because they were once mistreated strangers in a strange land and should do for others what should have been done for them (see Lev. 19:34 and Ex. 12:49).
Hospitality as a sociopolitical/religious policy (the law of Moses was their system of governance) was to influence all social relationships. Foreign travelers and immigrants, although not receiving full benefit of the law of Moses (see Deut. 15:3), could count on the Jewish custom of hospitality for provision and refuge. Fugitive slaves escaping from masters were to be treated cared for and protected (see Deut. 23:15-16). The elders of the so-called “cities of refuge” were required to support and protect the person who kills another unintentionally seeking refuge in their cities until the death of the high priest (see Num. 35:9–34).The most vulnerable of their society—the poor, the fatherless, the widow and the immigrant—was frequently and explicitly specified by the law as to receive hospitality.
Almost every prophet in the Hebrew tradition had to remind God’s people to “administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another” and to “not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor” (Zech. 7:9-10). Prophets like Isaiah reminds God’s people that hospitality must be tangible expressions of holy love when he states that one of the duties of the faithful is to “share your bread with the hungry,” and to “bring the poor and homeless into your house” (see Isa. 58:7). The Hebrew Scriptures are packed with teaching and examples of hospitality and is the backdrop upon which Christians ought to view our practice of hospitality.
Jesus of Nazareth, a faithful follower of the Hebrew tradition, offers his own script for hospitality. In one of his more famous teachings he connects giving water to thirsty, food to the hungry, clothes to unclothed, care for the sick, relational presence for the imprisoned, and a home for homeless strangers and foreigners as extending hospitality toward him (see Matt. 25:35-36). This should not surprise us since Jesus preached that the gospel would be good news for the most vulnerable when he said he had come to preach that God’s kingdom would receive the poor, bring peace to the oppressed, and set the captive free. (see Luke 4:18-19).
Paul, a well trained pharisee turned christian church planter and leader, commanded that christians “pursue hospitality” (Rom. 12:13)—the word “pursue” in the greek means “to hunt or aggressively chase.” He also said that christians should “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7). Even the writer of Hebrews gets in on the conversation as he/she calls back to Abraham’s encounter with the Lord in Genesis 18 when the hearers are reminded not to neglect hospitality just in case they end up neglecting an angel of God (see Hebrews 13:2).
In keeping with the Hebrew tradition of hospitality the christian command to pursue hospitality and extend God’s welcome to others involves caring for another’s emotional, social, and physical well-being, rather than neglecting them because, after all, “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Rom. 13:10). Hospitality is central to the gospel and should become an essential posture for the Church. It is a dominate theme in the story of our faith.