Hospitality is a key virtue in the emerging and missional church movements, as I’ve even argued in my latest book. In some ways, it is an understandable response to the perceived inhospitality of the late-20th century church. The conservative/evangelical church is seen as inhospitable for its exclusivistic theology. And the mainline/liturgical church is considered inhospitable for its anachronistic practices and rites. While each claims to be “seeker sensitive,” both, it can be argued, are relatively inhospitable.
That’s led me to consider if God is actually hospitable — it would seem harder to justify hospitality as a key virtue of our churches, if God isn’t setting the precedent.
The first place to look is the Old Testament, aka, the Hebrew scriptures.
The primary example of hospitality that people trot out in the Hebrew scriptures is Abraham, running to kill and ox when the three mysterious visitors suddenly appear standing above him under the Oaks of Mamre. But Abraham, as good of a model as he may be, is not God.
Yahweh exemplifies some serious hospitality in the Old Testament. In fact, it’s woven into the Law: every field is required to lie fallow on a once-every-seven-year cycle. But during that sabbath year, animals and wayfarers are able to pick and eat the gleanings of that field, unmolested by the field’s owner.The Lord also prescribes, in Leviticus 19,
33When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34The 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.
The countervailing examples, those of Yahweh’s inhospitality, far outweigh these. It would seem hospitable, for instance, that the Israelites would share the land on which the city of Jericho was built, or even build a settlement on some neighboring land [gasp!]. Instead, with Yahweh’s help, Jericho is destroyed, along with every man, woman, child, and creature within it.
Or take the Amalekites, on whom David “waged a sacred war of extermination,” according to the Jewish Encyclopedia. They probably didn’t consider Yahweh very hospitable.
So, my question is, how does the God of the Old Testament jibe with your understanding of Christian hospitality?