Hospitality is central to who God is and the gospel’s message. The story of creation calls us to view and to treat one another—and to welcome each other—as persons created in the image of the Holy One, bearing undeniable dignity. This defines the personal and relational nature of human existence and the mystery that human life cannot be understood apart from the mystery of God.
The Gospels are full of narratives about migration and displacement. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus and his family flees a threat as political refugees (Matt. 2:13-18). In the Gospel of John, many have difficulty believing in Jesus simply because of the place from which he emigrates (John 7:41-43, 52). Throughout his ministry, Jesus lives a life of displacement and constant movement (Luke 9:58). God’s solidarity with humanity is so complete that God not only reaches out to the stranger but becomes the stranger.
God’s solidarity with humanity is so complete that God not only reaches out to the stranger but becomes the stranger.
Scripture provides examples of many types of migration journeys and displacement experiences. Those who are “settled” must not oppress or take advantage of the foreigner who lives among them (Exodus 23:9), for all are aliens (Leviticus 19:33–34). The people of God are instructed to welcome foreigners as part of the community (Leviticus 25:35), build bridges of peace and practice hospitality ensuring a sense of belonging and home for all.
Story after story, the biblical narratives tell us that hospitality is central to the character of God, and that God expects us to be hospitable. In Matthew 25 we find the judgment of the nations based on acts and practices of hospitality (vv. 41-46.) This hospitality is not to be offered only to the people we know or who we trust, but to strangers as well (Hebrews 13:1-2).
We even find stories of protection of those whom, in our current context, may be deemed criminals or murderers. Moses sets apart “cities of refuge” for those who have killed without criminal intention (Deuteronomy 4:41-43). God takes the side of the poor and oppressed. God hears the cry of the “alien, widow or orphan” (Exodus 21:21–24). Displacement journeys, whether they are “forced” or “coerced” put people at risk, and God calls God’s people to support them.
Today’s protection protocols are bound by human law and informed by human prejudice. We are allowed to offer refuge and hospitality to people seeking protection if they are members of a particular social, political, religious group, a persecuted race, ethnic group or nationality. The biblical narratives also inform us of a hospitality that is ample and extended to those facing famine, poverty and climate related displacement (Genesis 46).
Today, the church is called to practice biblical hospitality. As we hear and see news of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers, it is imperative that we respond to God’s call to welcome strangers. What does this call and challenge to hospitality look like in practice today?
Saulo Padilla graduated from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS), Elkhart, Indiano. with a Master’s of Arts in Theology and Ethics. Since 2008 Padilla has worked with Mennonite Central Committee, providing learning opportunities about the need for better and safer mechanisms for people facing migration and advocating to reform the U.S. immigration system. He coordinates immigration law trainings for non-profits offering immigration legal services to immigrant communities, and leads learning tours to the U.S./Mexico borderlands and the Guatemala/Mexico border. His passion to work with immigrants comes from his own experience as the son of a refugee and immigrant, as well as the biblical call to welcome the stranger.