Welcome to My Place: A Biblical Overview of Hospitality and Welcoming the Stranger

These are some of the slides and notes from my presentation at the ‘Welcome to My Place’ Workshop run by Welcome to Australia, Surrender and Crossway and held at the Crossway Center in late November.

The day was designed to equip people to become aware of and assist asylum seekers and refugees in their communties.

Some of the impetus for this particular workshop came out of some public statements from Dale Stephenson the Pastor of Crossway Baptist, offering to house ‘unaccompanied minors’ as an alternative to the current Australian government policy of mandatory detention and the so called ‘Malaysia solution.’

The Free Burma Cafe embodied hospitality to us with their beautiful food and powerful stories and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre provided useful big picture perspective on the issues of practical support in the local context.

I was presenting on behalf of Surrender who’s partners Praxis, and UNOH Mission were represented at the workshop.

I did a brief blurb on why Surrender exists, its ethos and the coalition of like minded partner organisations it represents.

I quoted stats on how often our response to issues of justice and poverty is mentioned in different parts of the Hebrew Bible, The New Testament and Luke’s gospel in particular.

Surrender believes that how we respond to ‘the poor’ is not an optional extra for our faith or the domain for some special, ‘called’ saints.  Neither is it a ‘do good / feel good’ icing on the cake of our religion, rather it is central to what it means to have faith in Jesus, to understand the good news of salvation in the ‘here and now’ and to follow God’s mission in the world.

This image/idea of the biblical identity of humanity and the church as “Boat People,” (that we are all in many ways homeless/ marginal/ seeking refuge,) came from Rev. Dr Gordon Preece in an article on the Bible and Refugees where he makes connections between ideas of a fallen humanity, Noah, the boat motif of the early church and our particular Australian history of boat based migration.

Whilst Welcome to Australia has a broader focus that the ‘church’, the fact that this was a workshop being run at a church venue for a majority of Christian people meant I was invited to do a brief ‘Bible Survey’ on why ‘Welcoming the Stranger’ is at the heart of the Judeo- Christian tradition.

Starting at the beginning, I introduced the idea of Genesis 1-11 as ‘resistance literature’ of small, oppressed communities struggling for survival against the Imperial forces of thier day and that Genesis accurately narrates an increasing spiral of violence that names many of the dynamics that cause global displacement of peoples even today.

I first encountered this perspective from Ched Myers who’s brilliant ‘The Fall of Adam and The Rise of Civilization: Brief Notes on Genesis 1-11′ article is downloadable for a small fee. Another good resource for this sort of perspective is Wes Howard Brooks’ Come Out My People: God’s Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond.

I mentioned Noah and the Deluge in Genesis 4 again, as in Gordon Preece’s article listed above, but I also gave emphasis here to the theme of the reversal of the Genesis creation where God separates land and waters.  I made connections to this and the ‘de-creation’ implicit in the current climate change crisis and the increasing reality of people being displaced due to climate factors.

God’s plan for redemption is received through an offer of hospitality to strangers.  This is where the Christian tradition of ‘unknowingly entertaining angels’ begins.

This hospitality of the wandering herdsman Abraham is contrasted by what happens to the same ‘angels/strangers’ at Sodom in the next story.  Sodom represents a fortified city state in opposition to the ‘ways of God’.  In our context this opposition is often reduced to a conservative religious position on ‘homosexuality,’ however in Ezekiel 16: 49-50 the Bible itself names the sin of Sodom as one of not providing hospitality for the poor and needy.

The narrative of the Exodus liberation of slaves and the sojourn through the wilderness and the giving of the law is vital for an understanding of biblical welcome.

The alternative economics of abundance implicit in the provision and test of the manna in Exodus 16 offer a vision of Sabbath and Jubilee law designed to protect people, the land and significantly, the foreigner or alien. (Leviticus 25, Dueteronomy 15)

Whatever you feel about the idea that ‘We are all Boat People,’ Judeo-Christian identity IS one of a wilderness people, searching for home, learning to live free and remembering they were once a dis-placed, enslaved people who were to be a model of freedom and hospitality to others (eg. Deuteronomy 15:15).

The best overview of Sabbath/Jubilee Economics and the hospitality it affords is articulated by Ched Myers in God Speed the Year of Jubilee and Jesus New Economy of Grace: The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics.

The Prophets relentlessly call Israel back to its wilderness traditions of hospitality and justice when the Jubilee laws are forgotten.

The ‘Year of the Lords favour’ in Isaiah 61 is a reference back to the Jubilee tradition and the chapter includes a place for the foreigner/ stranger in its conception of salvation for the nation.

I read a line by someone the other day… “You know that guy who holds up the sign John 3:16 at sporting events around the world,  in the ancient world that would have been Isaiah 61!”

At the start of his own ministry Jesus in Luke 4 uses Isaiah 61 as a manifesto to describe his mission and purpose in the world.  Significantly after reading this ancient text he specifically applies the fulfilment of this prophesy to foreigners; people of other cultures and religions which almost get’s him killed before he starts by the xenophobes of his own home town!

Hospitality can often seem a small and inadequate response to the large amount of issues / problems that are represented in the life of a dis-placed person.  I think often the sheer size/amount of problems that dislocation of people represents (war, oppression, torture, corruption etc) can be one of the reasons we don’t want to welcome the stranger.  Refugees remind us of the reality of a world we would rather not know about.  Their presence interupts our ‘comfortable’ but potentially dangerous denial.

God’s response of ‘becoming poor’  in the ‘incarnation’ of Jesus as narrated in the book of Philippians, could be considered small and inadequate.  One human life located in a backward region of the dominant empire of the day.

The Missionary instructions of Jesus in Mark 6 are for his followers to ‘remain small,’ travel light and to be dependent upon the hospitality of others.  There is a mutuality in the give and take nature of true hospitality.  We do not just give but we also receive much in opening ourselves up to others… In welcoming the other we need to be open to the fact that we ourselves may be the ones being saved or helped through the process.

Sadly the history of Christian Mission suggests we have often ignored Jesus’ instructions and have proceeded into the world taking up the sword rather than a cross, or at the very least, a LOT of cultural and doctrinal baggage that can easily destroy the mutuality of hospitality.

As an ex-communist activist who converted to Catholicism, Dorothy Day and the Hospitality House tradition of the Catholic Worker Movement can offer us an inspiring and informative example of how to sustain a significant movement of welcome. Against many of the big slavation ‘isms’ of her day her movement provided a deep, embodied critique and example of how LOVE through personal, local action, is ultimately the most important solution to the worlds biggest problems.

“Your love for God is only as great as the love you have for the person you love the least..”

“What we would like to do is change the world–make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, the poor, of the destitute–the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor, in other words–we can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world. We repeat, there is nothing we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as our friend.”
― Dorothy Day

The earliest image of the Church, based upon its fishing village movement origins is that of the boat.

Jesus missionary journeys included getting in a boat and stilling a storm in order to cross to the ‘other side’ in Mark 5.  The image of the Geresean demoniac in this Mark 5 text is of an oppressed, self abusing, cultural ‘other’ (dwelling amongst pigs and tombs).  I highlighted the Roman military images implicit in his ‘exorcism’ (Legion, The Charging Boar, the ‘drowning’ reference to the Exdous liberation of slaves etc.) There is a similarity of many of these ‘internalised oppression’ dynamics for present day survivors of war, torture and oppression and we would do well to note them in seeking to help asylum seekers.

Jesus liberation journeys are risky and shocking to his disciples.  Faith is demonstrated by a ‘disciple overboard’ saga in Matthew 14:28-31. Each time they cross from Jewish to Gentile territory there is some kind of ‘storm’ or ‘the wind is against them’ (Mark 6:48.) On one occasion Jesus comes to them on the water as a ghost.  Jesus often comes to us as ‘the other’, the thing we most fear.  Each occasion Jesus enables this connection with ‘the other’ and enacts wilderness feeding and healings on both ‘sides’ as a symbol of reconciliation.

The gospels go out of their way to paint Jesus as the ‘other’.  The one who comes to as one who understands deeply the experience of what it means to be ‘marginal,’ who identifies and seeks to reconcile the ‘marginality’ in our world and our own lives.

Matthew 25 is perhaps the most powerful image of the Christ who comes to us in the poor and our offer of hospitality to Jesus, embodied in ‘the least of these,’ is presented as vital for salvation.

Saul/Paul is converted from being a persecutor of a religious minority through a vision of Christ who appears to him as a ‘persecuted refugee’ on the road to Damascus.

Whatever you think of the Apostle Paul and how his theology and instructions pick up the ministry of Jesus, Paul stakes his whole ministry upon the cultural reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in the ancient world and on the redistribution of resources from rich churches to poor churches for the sake of ‘equality’.

Having started at the beginning in Genesis I concluded our bible overview with the final book of Revelation.

The image above by English artist Holman Hunt was a popular one based on Revelation Chapter 3 where Jesus says “Behold I stand at the door and knock…”  My Grandmother had a print of it in her house and as I grew up in the church the imagery was used in many an evangelistic call to suggest Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart waiting to be invited in.

What was never made clear to me in this type of preaching was that the context of this image in John’s ‘Revelation’ is one of criticism of a wealthy church who have forgotten the poor at their doorstep.  Jesus once again is presented as the stranger and for ‘wealthy’ Christians, faithfulness is all about how we see, hear and respond to this ‘knock’ in our world.

Jesus may well be knocking at the door of our hearts, but he also is knocking at the door of our actual homes and nation, coming to us in the form of the ‘marginalised,’ the ‘refugee,’ the ‘asylum seeker’.  Opening the door of our hearts to Jesus involves opening our homes, lives and nation to the Christ at our doors and the welcome he invites.

Some more Biblical Texts about Welcoming the Stranger:

Deuteronomy 10: 19 You shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 19:34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

Luke 10:27 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.

Matt. 5:43-44 You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.

Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Romans 13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbour,    therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 12:13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Acts 10:34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Revelation 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.”

3 John 1:5 Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the friends, even though they are strangers to you; they have testified to your love before the church. You do well to send them on in a manner worthy of God; for they began their journey for the sake of Christ, accepting no support from non-believers. Therefore we ought to support such people, so that they may become co-workers with the truth.

Hebrews 13: 1 Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Collossians 3:11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.

Matthew 25: 35 I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

Matt. 25:40 Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren you did it to me.

Bible and The Stranger Link

Mennonite link