– Romans 15:7 (NRSV)
Americans generally have wrestled with issues of national and personal security since the Sept. 11 attacks, and as writer Rebeca Jiménez Yoder, puts it, “We have become more aware of the gap that exists between our fears of being hospitable to strangers and our ideals as a country. Our ideals are exemplified by the Statue of Liberty that welcomed immigrants with the poem by Emma Lazarus, ‘The New Colossus:’ ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…’ But our fear has caused us to give in to a selfish spirit of self-protection and self-preservation.”
Many people disagree with Yoder, a Mennonite, but the issues of strangers, welcome and hospitality ares inarguably part of the biblical ethic.
Yoder, writing for the Mennnonite church’s social justice and peace website, says, “ ... Some of the most selfish behavior in our churches goes by the name of hospitality. We act as though hospitality were another word for ‘taking care of our own ...’”
Yoder’s strong words may discomfort, but they point to the even stronger demands Jesus made of those who would take up their crosses and follow him.
Yoder writes, “Hospitality has everything to do with treating and welcoming people the way that Jesus did. Like Jesus, we must love people ... without expecting anything in return.”
United Methodist theologian and ethicist Christine Pohl of Asbury Seminary writes the “Old Testament stories are foundational to the tradition of hospitality.” She notes that Old Testament laws addressed the entire community and established structural supports to protect aliens from poverty and abuse and that judges were to deal impartially with them.
Yoder writes, “Because God was Israel’s host (Psalms 39:12; Leviticus 25:23) they knew that they must play host to others who were without a home of their own.”
A story in Luke, as Yoder notes, helps us see another example of hospitality in an encounter with Jesus:
“In Luke 24:13-31, following his resurrection, Jesus appeared as a stranger to two of his disciples. The disciples did not recognize Jesus and asked if he was a stranger. ... They were traveling to a village called Emmaus, and after telling and listening to stories, they came to their final destination. ... It was not until they broke bread that their eyes were opened and they finally were able to recognize Jesus. Is it possible that when we welcome a stranger our eyes will be opened and we may be able to recognize Jesus in the stranger?”
Yoder asks, “How can they become part of God's household if we do not welcome them and invite them to join us?”
The contemporary situation pleads for a renewal of biblical hospitality from people who claim the heritage.