“Let all visitors who chance to arrive be welcomed as if it were Christ himself.” –Benedictine Rule
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2
Hospitality is a cardinal biblical value. It is hard to overstate its importance. It raises questions about how Christians should respond to asylum seekers and refugees.
In biblical terms, hospitality is a positive obligation. That is, a potential host has an obligation to invite the stranger in. This is contrary to the norm in our culture, where a visitor / stranger must not expect an invitation. In our culture, if someone fails to provide hospitality where it could be offered, it is not regarded as immoral. However, God’s people are called to go out of their way to invite the stranger in and provide hospitality. Failing to do so is not simply immoral , it is a redemptive non sequitir.
The need to extend hospitality is embedded in the nature of God’s saving acts. God’s people are told, “you shall love the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut 10:19) and “you shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Ex 23:9) In biblical terms, salvation is a welcoming embrace to home, as Jesus so powerfully shows in the parable of the prodigal son. God’s welcome to Israel demanded that this nation extend hospitality and care to the stranger and the alien. (Deut 10:16-20, Deut 26:5-11; Lev 19:33-34; Lev 25:35).
The OT has numerous stories illustrating God’s anger at lack of hospitality and blessings for showing hospitality, eg. Dt 23:3-4; Jud 19:15-20, 1 Sam 25, 36-38; Gen 19:4-8; 1 Ki 17:8-16; 2 Ki 4:1-17; Job 29:16.
The NT further underlines how indispensable hospitality is for God’s people. The book of Hebrews attributes Rahab’s salvation to her hospitable reception of the Israelite spies, Heb 11:31. Jesus becomes known as the ‘friend of sinners’. The great salvation episode of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem culminates in Zacchaeus’ hospitable acceptance of Jesus in Luke 19:1-10. Jesus frequently describes heaven with pictures of lavish, ‘borderless’ hospitality. The parable of the banquet, Lk 14:15; the prodigal son, Lk 15 (cf. Is 25:6; 55:1-2). Jesus invites whoever is thirsty to drink, John 7:37-39 (cf. Rev 22:17) and models a servant-like host at the Last Supper, John 13:1-17.
While banquet-type references to hospitality are metaphorical, any attempt to ‘spiritualize’ away the concrete, practical implications for hospitality is alien to Scripture. Jesus didn’t merely preach about welcoming sinners, he practiced it (also see Matt 25:35). Jesus’ brother, James, destroys the notion that faith should exist without practical deeds (2:14-18). Hospitality is commended in the early church in Acts, such as with Lydia (Acts 16:13-15, also see Rom 16:23, 1 Tim 5:10), and a qualification of bishops was demonstrating hospitality (1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:8). There are direct commands to show hospitality, “extend hospitality to strangers” (Rom 12:13); “do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Heb 13:2)
Biblical hospitality is a broadly inclusive obligation. Denying hospitality would only be conceivable in extraordinarily exceptional circumstances. Dubious character, alien culture or strange belief, or indeed other unpalatable social or spiritual qualities are not grounds for denying hospitality.
Biblical hospitality is a positive obligation in the same sense that there is a positive duty on God’s people to care, be patient and to act honestly. It is our responsibility to ensure that those in need of hospitality do not lack it. In other words, neglecting hospitality is a sin of omission.
Biblical hospitality is a communal obligation on God’s people. While it is also a gift of the Spirit there is no notion that only certain individuals carry responsibility for hospitality, whilst others are exempt. (just as the gift of kindness doesn’t exempt all Christians from showing kindness)
A Christian Response to Asylum Seekers
- Unless there is unambiguous evidence that asylum seekers fall into an exceptional category the biblical calling on Christians is to practice hospitality and support policy consistent with hospitality.
- What can the church do to express hospitality to asylum seekers: a) as local churches, and b) as part of broader society? What specific responsibilities do Christian leaders have in light of 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:7-8?