God on Monday
‘The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God’ (Leviticus 19.34)
Welcome to the twenty-eighth God on Monday reflection on 'purpose'!
If you were a refugee fleeing persecution, what would you most need? Probably safety, food, clothing, accommodation, employment, and integration into a local community. All this is included in ‘Operation Warm Welcome’, a UK government effort to help Afghan refugees arriving in the UK. It mirrors a similar programme for those fleeing new strictures in Hong Kong.
Churches have been key providers, represented as they are in every local community. Their actions reflect the biblical meaning of hospitality. When we use the word hospitality, we generally mean having people we know round to our homes – family, friends, and neighbours. But the Greek word means ‘love for strangers’, or xenophilia (the opposite of xenophobia). Inns being scarce in the ancient world, biblical hospitality is about welcoming strangers into one’s home. The paradigmatic story is Abraham and Sarah, who in providing hospitality to strangers, unknowingly entertained angels (Hebrews 13:2).
Most hospitality to strangers has been on hold during the pandemic. The return of the hard-hit hospitality industry provides an opportunity to celebrate its positive social role. For in hotels, restaurants, and pubs, patrons are welcome despite being unknown to their hosts. The fact that such institutions take money in exchange for such hospitality does not devalue their public role. That role is, indeed, embodied in the very word pub, meaning ‘public house’. Pubs are living rooms to their neighbourhoods. Those that excel in creating such space are generally driven not only by profit but by xenophilia.
Exercising hospitality to strangers without material reward demands, of course, greater generosity. Yet this is exactly what is meant, not only by the injunction to ‘extend hospitality to strangers’ (Romans 12:13), but by Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan. For the xenophilia of the Samaritan (not that of the innkeeper) goes unremunerated. But the demands of such selfless hospitality are acknowledged – firstly, by the suggestion that we should practice it ‘without grumbling’ (1 Peter 4:9); and secondly by the stipulation that only those who demonstrate it should become church leaders (Titus 1:8; 1 Timothy 3:2). Christians throughout the centuries have nevertheless risen to the demands, as witnessed by the rise of hospitals and hospices.
As the hospitality industry returns to contributing huge revenue, employment and wellbeing to society, a glass can be raised to an industry so recently on its knees. It models a sense of welcome and belonging that promotes healthy societies. Love for strangers is stranger than love for friends and family. But only in exercising it do we find what on earth we are here for.
Peter S Heslam, Director of Faith in Business
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